Toronto Maple Leafs 2014 first-round pick William Nylander made his North American professional debut Friday night with the American Hockey League’s Marlies.
Not since the 2006-07 season when goaltender Justin Pogge made his AHL debut had there been such hype surrounding a Leafs’ pick in a Marlies sweater.
Unfortunately for the 18-year-old he was held off the scoresheet as the Marlies were blanked 3-0 by the Hamilton Bulldogs, the affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens.
Nylander joined the Marlies after scoring eight goals and 20 points in 21 games for Modo in the Swedish Hockey League this season. He also appeared in seven games for Sweden at the world junior hockey championship scoring three goals and seven assists – leading his team with 10 points.
At the same tournament, Nylander’s close friend, and Bruins’ prospect, David Pastrnak had a team-leading seven points in five games for the Czech Republic. Following the tournament, the Bruins’ recalled Pastrnak, who had four goals and an assist in seven games prior to the NHL All-Star break.
Watching Pastrnak’s trajectory in such a short span has Nylander motivated.
“The work he’s put in, he deserves to be there,” Nylander said. “I’m really happy for him. We’re really close buddies back home so I mean seeing him score makes me happy and inspires me to keep working and hopefully one day I’ll get the chance. Even if it’s not this year, maybe next year. That’s your goal.”
One of the things the Marlies will work on with Nylander is adjusting to the physicality of the North American game.
“I think that’s one of the aspects of his game that we want him to improve upon,” said Leafs assistant general manager, Kyle Dubas. “It’s going to have to happen over here. I think at the world juniors you see he does put himself in positions with the puck where he gets run at and hit a lot. It’s not going to take long to take some hits from men where he’s going to know not to do it again.”
Nylander and the Marlies play host to the Bulldogs in the second half of a home and home Saturday afternoon before the American Hockey League pauses for its’ All-Star break.