Due to the gaudy rookie point totals Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews are producing right now, it seems many people are sleeping on how good William Nylander has been. While Nylander is still producing at a 55 point pace in his rookie season, many things are pointing to him being deserving of more than that. Nylander leads the Leafs in expected primary points per hour, which has been proven to be more predictive of future scoring than shots or points. He also leads the team in score, zone and venue adjusted Rel.CF%. In other words, the Leafs’ shot share increases more significantly when he is on the ice than with any other player on the team.
Frankly, the only reason Nylander isn’t putting up higher traditional point numbers seems to be bad luck. The only player with a worse on-ice 5v5 shooting percentage on the team is Ben Smith, who is atrocious and plays with Matt Martin most of the time. On-ice shooting percentage is simply the team’s shooting percentage while said player is on the ice. To put Nylander’s misfortune into perspective, he owns a 6.2 on-ice sh% while Marner’s (fourth highest on the team) is 10%. Now, I believe Marner’s will always be relatively high due to his fantastic play-making abilitites, but the fact that Nylander’s is almost 4% lower is almost strictly due to misfortune on Nylander’s side.
What I’m trying to make clear is that Nylander is a whole lot better than he’s been getting credit for. The fact that TSN is trying to drive this “trade Nylander for a defenceman,” narrative is indicative of how under appreciated he is right now. If the Leafs didn’t have two other rookies putting up historic rookie seasons, Nylander would be being talked about as the future of the franchise and the next Mats Sundin (who is celebrating his 46th birthday today.)
I’ve been saving a lot of clips of Nylander of late, with most of them being plays that may be missed or forgotten about by most soon after they happen because they don’t all end in goals. As you’ll no doubt notice in this video, my favourite part of his game is his transition game. He blows by people in the neutral zone on a regular basis while making it look totally effortless. His ability to drive play as a winger is so impressive and I think he’s going to be a fantastic centre in the league. Playing centre will only ensure he has the puck on his stick in all three zones all the more often, which is a very good thing for the team.