Head coach Mike Babcock has predicted that “there’s pain coming” to Toronto, which is pretty much all Maple Leafs fans have known during the salary-cap era anyways. But as difficult as the 2015-16 campaign might be, their fans also have some reasons to be optimistic, with one of the big ones being forward William Nylander.
Taken with the eighth overall pick in the 2014 draft, Nylander is coming off a strong and unusual season. He started with MODO of the Swedish League, but left Europe after scoring eight goals and 20 points in 21 contests. He reported to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies where he added another 14 goals and 32 points in 37 games.
That stint in the AHL was a big test for Nylander. Unlike most freshly drafted players, he already had experience playing against men in Sweden, but this was an opportunity to get used to a North American travel schedule as well as adjust to a more physical style of play.
His success under those conditions certainly helped his cause, but he still has a lot of work ahead of him in order to secure a roster spot with the Maple Leafs. Toronto already has 13 forwards signed to one-way contracts (not including Nathan Horton) and some other forward prospects that should get serious looks during training camp, including Kasperi Kapanen, Mitch Marner, and Zach Hyman. Ultimately, what his physical conditioning is like by the start of training camp could go a long way towards determining how well the 19-year-old will do against that level of competition.
“You don’t worry about his speed, you don’t worry about his skill,” Leafs assistant general manager Kyle Dubas said of Nylander, per the Toronto Sun. “You just worry about him, as you would with any 18- or 19-year-old, being strong enough.”
Perhaps having more time to work on his conditioning will prove to be the best route for him, but Nylander could nevertheless force the Maple Leafs to make some tough decisions.