March 17, 2015
TORONTO— It didn’t surprise Marlies head coach Gord Dineen when William Nylander doubled his season goal total in one weekend.
He just needed to start playing with more of a shoot-first mentality.
Nylander produced three goals in his first 19 games with the Marlies and matched that by scoring Friday against Lehigh Valley and then adding a pair against Adirondack the following day.
“Theres a lot of guys like that you want to see be more selfish,” said Dineen. “Even if they’re not so much shooting to score, sometimes a shot and a rebound is as good as a pass and we’re starting to drive that mentality home in (Nylander).
“He’s got a very deceptive, quick shot. So when he does get it off it’s got a chance to score.”
After coming over from Sweden in January, the 18-year-old forward went through an adjustment period with the Marlies and was looking for teammates more often than his own scoring opportunities. He averaged only 1.12 shots a game through his first 16 outings, but routinely found the score sheet with an assist and put together a five-game point streak that was snapped Sunday against Hamilton.
“It’s a natural thing sometimes, you want to defer to your peers,” said Dineen. “Everyone’s older, so he was probably looking to move the puck to them. (But) I’m really seeing that his confidence level has risen certainly in the last five to 10 games.”
Nylander, five-foot-11 174 pounds, was placed on a line in February with 20-year-old rookies Connor Brown and Ryan Rupert with the hope of increasing the confidence in all three when they had the puck. Most recently, though, Nylander has been playing with 24-year-old Byron Froese and 27-year old Matt Frattin, which has brought out the best in his game.
“I’m starting to see him make those plays in the small areas that are trademarks of his,” said Dineen. “He’s understanding both sides of the puck, coming back harder. He still has to work on details, a work in progress, but I definitely see an improvement.”
In 22 games with Toronto, Nylander has produced six goals and 16 points— which puts him second on the team behind only Brown in team scoring over a 76-game AHL season.
With his current production at 0.72 points per game, Nylander is also on pace for the sixth-best AHL season by an 18-year-old since 1974 that has played at least 10 games — which according to Elite Hockey Prospects is 32 total players.
It’s rare for any player so young to spend a significant amount of time in the AHL, and because of rules it’s typically only Europeans who put in anything close to a full season at 18 years of age. At the end of every major junior season CHL players usually join an AHL club, although very few ever make an impact.
In Dineen’s 16 years coaching pro hockey, he could only come up with one player who made a difference on one of his teams at that age.
“Certainly the circumstances are different with (Nylander) coming from Europe, but we had Morgan Rielly as a young player, he finished the season and played the playoffs.
“You’re seeing that maturity level, they’re good professionals and pattern themselves after good professionals.”
Nylander, who Toronto selected eighth overall at the 2014 NHL Draft, has played the left-wing since joining the Marlies and Dineen has no intention of moving him to centre anytime soon.
Prior to joining the Marlies, Nylander played in the Swedish Hockey League with many other older players, but he was not the youngest on his squad. Modo also dressed a 16 year old, a 17 year old, two other 18 year olds and three 19 year olds.
Toronto has 15 regular-season games remaining and are four points out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.