There’s no doubt that William Nylander impressed during the World Junior Championship over the holidays. His 10 points in seven games allowed him to lead Sweden in scoring, and he finished fifth in scoring for the tournament.
The story wasn’t as great for his team who finished fourth in the tournament. The round-robin portion was impressive as the Swedes were a perfect 4-0-0-0, but as the games became more physical, Nylander took more punishment.
It was something that weighed into Leafs management’s mind to bring Nylander over to the North American game.
“One thing during the World Juniors that was a little bit alarming was whenever he did have the puck, he would be in a position where he was taking some physical punishment,” said Leafs Assistant GM Kyle Dubas. “I think it speaks to the fact that he certainly is not scared to go into tough areas.”
Representing Sweden marked the first time Nylander played on North American ice since he was cut at Leafs training camp. Dubas compared the adjustments Nylander will make to what Connor Brown has successfully done, adapting from the OHL to the AHL.
Nylander played 21 games with Swedish club MODO before the Leafs enacted a clause in his contract that allowed the organization to bring him back to Toronto prior to Jan. 16. He registered eight goals and 12 assists during that time. The club has struggled, sitting last in the Sweden’s top-pro hockey league, and is facing the prospect of relegation.
The decision to bring him over had nothing to do with MODO's performance and everything to do with getting Nylander accustomed to the North American game.
He will spend the entire season with the Marlies to continue to refine his game, but like any 18-year old, there are elements that need work. And while there may be a temptation to bring him up to the Leafs, Dubas insists that would only be detrimental to his development.
“Our purpose of having him play with Marlies is just so that we continue to be patient and execute a set plan with him and ensure that when the day comes that he does maximize his potential there that he's able to come up to the Leafs and be able to be a regular in the lineup,” said Dubas. “Not a guy that's up and then down and bouncing back and forth. It's just our internal discussion on being patient with him.”
Meanwhile, the Marlies have been playing some of their best hockey recently. After struggling for much of the season, Toronto has gone 6-0-3 in their past nine games, moving above .500 for the first time in nearly two months. The addition of Nylander comes at an opportune time for a team that found it difficult to score for much of the season.
“I know that he is very excited, at the same time a little bit sad to be leaving his teammates in MODO and the situation in MODO,” Dubas said. “But he is excited about coming over and getting set to get rolling here in Toronto.”
The target date for Nylander’s Marlies debut is Jan. 23 against the Hamilton Bulldogs. Expect his games to be well attended — Nylander was a big draw at Air Canada Centre during the World Juniors, constantly getting cheers of “Go Leafs Go” when he would do something positive on the ice.