William Nylander: Rising Above the Critics

Last season’s contract dispute has continued to dog William Nylander into this new season, as there is a continued vocal portion of Leafs Nation that has yet to move on. It doesn’t matter that Nylander started the year on a five-game point streak, or how a majority of his advanced analytics placed him tops on the team in a majority the categories.

After the first 5 games, here are the advanced analytics comparing Nylander to another talented Maple Leaf, Mitch Marner:

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For an explanation of each category, visit Corsica Hockey.

This isn’t as indictment on Mitch, nor am I comparing them but using a benchmark with which we can look at the effectiveness of Nylander to start the season. A lot of time when you read tweets that are negatively targeting Nylander they will often times use Mitch as the barometer to how “poorly” they feel Nylander is playing.

These people will continually use the “eye test” to validate their opinions, however as the above chart shows, the “eye test” is and will always be flawed. Much like the old saying, “Whatever you seek, is what you find” the eye test does the same. If you go into something looking for the worst/best in a player, your eyes will only find those flaws/success to validate your inherited bias.

But numbers and stats don’t lie, nor do they care about one’s bias or feelings, they are what they are and that is why there has been a huge push to use advanced statistics across all sports and not just in hockey (this isn’t a GM Kyle Dubas smoke screen as some have suggested either).

Getting back to Nylander, over the course of the season, advanced analytics will begin to account for any peaks and valleys Nylander may have in raw goals/assists per game. They can also predict future success and/or failure that isn’t seen with just the eyes.

From the moment Nylander made his debut, it was apparent what his strengths were and those attributes have played into the type of game another Maple Leafs’ Star Auston Matthews likes to play.

Nylander with his ability to gain the opposing team’s zone, and puck possession game compliments Matthew’s remarkable ability to get his precision shot off for a goal. What you will find more often than not with the Nylander/Matthews line is they start to cycle the puck almost from the time they enter the zone. Owning the puck longer, opens up more scoring chances, more scoring chances means a higher likelihood of a goal for (Isn’t rocket science, but trying to convince some has been excruciatingly painful).

Nylander’s much like Marner’s game isn’t one of force, that is perfectly fine as both are highly skilled players and most successful team have a blend of it all. The Leafs already have Trevor Moore, Zach Hyman and Ilya Mikheyev if you are looking for that more grinder style of game. Would we expect Zach Hyman to play with the same skill as Nylander/Marner? No, that is because that isn’t his style of game nor is it what we should expect from Nylander/Marner either.

In closing, Nylander is an effective forward who’s control of the game and puck is paralleled by few on the team and the impact he has on his line with Matthews is thing of beauty on most nights. Nylander may never hit guys through the boards on a nightly basis, but what he can do is keep the Maple Leafs’ offense going on overdrive and the magic he creates should never be under appreciated.

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