TRAIKOS: Is this the year when Maple Leafs’ William Nylander finally breaks out and becomes a star?

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Three years later, a contract that an NHL govt as soon as criticized as being so unhealthy that it arrange Toronto “for failure” and Forbes journal predicted would “blow up within the Leafs’ faces” isn’t wanting like the top of the world anymore.


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It’s humorous how that works.

Time not solely heals all wounds, it additionally places issues into perspective.

When William Nylander sat out for the primary two months of the 2018-19 season whereas negotiating a six-year deal price $45 million — “OMG, that’s David Pastrnak kind cash!!!” cap-conscious followers tweeted — the ahead was thought of extremely overpaid.

However that was earlier than Montreal re-signed Nick Suzuki to a cap hit of $7.875 million and Ottawa gave in to Brady Tkachuk’s calls for of a seven-year contract price $8.2 million yearly.

In comparison with these gamers, Nylander’s deal seems like a steal. Definitely, his $6.9-million cap hit is much more cheap than the $11 million Toronto is paying John Tavares or the $10.9 million that Mitch Marner is incomes.


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The one query is whether or not Nylander, who has but to get pleasure from a real breakout season, can outperform both of these gamers this yr. With two objectives and one help in his first two video games of the season, the 25-year-old is off to a fantastic begin in that division.

However with Nylander, it’s all about consistency — or an absence thereof.

The yr that he signed his contract, he rewarded the Leafs with simply seven objectives and 27 factors in 54 video games. The next yr, he tied for fifteenth within the league in scoring with 31 objectives in 68 video games. However then he flatlined in 2020-21, scoring 17 objectives — simply two greater than Zach Hyman — and rating outdoors the highest 60 in factors.

In different phrases, nobody actually is aware of what to anticipate out of the enigmatic winger these remaining 80 video games.


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Will Nylander, who presently has as many objectives as Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos, be capable to stay within the Rocket Richard Trophy race? Can he turn out to be a 40- or a 50-goal scorer and a point-per-game participant? Can he put up Pastrnak-like numbers?

And, for a group that has put all of its monetary eggs in a single basket, can he be extra than simply the fourth-most-important member of Toronto’s $40-million core?

Maple Leafs winger William Nylander celebrates his third-period goal against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on Thursday night. The Leafs are counting on him more than ever to provide offence. GETTY IMAGES
Maple Leafs winger William Nylander celebrates his third-period purpose towards the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on Thursday night time. The Leafs are relying on him greater than ever to offer offence. GETTY IMAGES

This has all the time been the query — and the supply of frustration with a participant as gifted as Nylander. Because the eighth-overall decide within the 2014 NHL entry draft, he was the primary piece in Toronto’s rebuild and its philosophical shift to valuing pace and ability over measurement and power. However since then, he’s fallen a number of rungs down the depth chart for a similar causes he initially fell to the Leafs within the draft.


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“Misunderstood,” is how group president Brendan Shanahan described Nylander within the Amazon docuseries All or Nothing. However there’s extra to it than that.

The explanation why Nylander didn’t get the identical cash as Marner or Auston Matthews wasn’t as a result of he isn’t as expert as his teammates. It was as a result of his work ethic doesn’t all the time match that expertise stage. Nylander doesn’t all the time present up. When he does, he generally cuts corners. As gifted as he’s, he has but to squeeze each single ounce of that expertise out of his physique and put the entire items collectively.

It’s why he ended up as a frequent visitor in Mike Babcock’s doghouse. And it’s why, each time this group struggles, it’s normally Nylander’s title on the high of the commerce checklist.

Good factor the Leafs didn’t pull the set off. In any case, they want him now greater than ever.


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Name him “misunderstood,” if you’d like. However with Matthews on the shelf and Hyman now not on the group, the Leafs perceive how essential Nylander is to their long-term success this season. This isn’t as deep a roster because it as soon as was a yr or two in the past. It’s not sufficient for Nylander to be a secondary scoring choice, as he was in 2018-19, when seven different Leafs had 20 or extra objectives.

With Hyman gone and Matthews and Ilya Mikheyev on the shelf nursing accidents, there are fewer offensive choices, placing much more stress on Nylander to contribute. Primarily based on how nicely he has performed within the first two video games — and the way nicely he performed throughout final yr’s playoffs, the place he was Toronto’s greatest participant with 5 objectives and eight factors in a first-round loss to Montreal — he lastly appears greater than prepared for the problem.


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Nylander had a purpose within the season-opening win towards the Canadiens, together with 4 photographs and 4 takeaways. One night time later, he scored a purpose and picked up an help in a comeback try that fell brief to the Senators.

After all, the stat you need to take note of when speaking about Nylander is ice time. He’s all the time been a less-is-more sort of participant. His profession common is round 16-and-a-half minutes. In opposition to the Senators, the place he was bumped as much as a line with Tavares and Marner, he logged almost 23 minutes.

That’s an indication of respect from the teaching employees. It tells you that Nylander is doing extra to assist — than damage — the group nowadays. That he could be trusted. That he could be leaned on for extra than simply the occasional purpose.

Now comes the problem: Doing it for an additional 80 video games. If that’s the case, then he might be a good greater payday when his contract comes up three years from now.



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