Father’s NHL experience helps Leafs’ Nylander get a jump on pro career

By Jason Menard

William Nylander - Toronto Maple Leafs

Photo: Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospect William Nylander was chosen 13th overall in the CHL Import Draft by the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads (courtesy of Mark Spowart/Icon Sportswire)

 

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ 18-year-old first-rounder William Nylander may be young in NHL years, but he’s got a wealth of NHL experience behind him. And that confidence, along with a copious amount of talent, may propel him to the big-league roster as early as this season.

“Yeah, I mean of course when you grow up around the rink you see the ways that NHL life was with my father. We would go with him to the rinks and just see what it was like in the locker room,” he said. “Just growing up with him showed you what your goal was and what your dream was. Having my father there in the NHL, he’s been able to give me advice that I don’t think other players can get.”

The Calgary, AB-born, Stockholm, Sweden-raised Nylander is the son of Michael Nylander, a veteran of 967 NHL regular-season and playoff games. The elder Nylander was the 59th overall selection in the 1991 NHL Draft; the younger Nylander surpassed that, having been selected eighth overall by the Leafs in 2014.

William explained that his father has always been consistent in his advice, and that he’s appreciative of what Michael has done for him.

“It’s always everyday to come with the same mindset of getting better every day and give 100 per cent at every practice,” William said. “That’s the only way you’re going to get better as a player and it’s what’s going to be the best for you and your team.

“The only way I think of it is that it’s a big advantage having my father there for me through everything, helping me both on the ice and off the ice.”

Though he’s Canadian-born, William admitted to experiencing a bit of culture shock off the ice — especially once he was officially a member of the Leafs.

“It’s unreal. It’s crazy. In Sweden, there’s nothing like [Toronto],” he said. “You walk around the city and there’s a bus driver yelling your name and saying, ‘Welcome to Toronto!’ That would probably never happen in Sweden. It’s crazy.”

But on the ice? It hasn’t been that much of a change. And though he only played in one of the Leafs’ three rookie tournament games, he was hard on himself for his performance — one that drew rave reviews for the skill level displayed.

“To me, I haven’t really felt a big difference in the level of hockey. It’s the chances — you get a lot better quality scoring chances here,” he said, adding — with a laugh: “That’s why I probably should have scored a few more goals here and there.”

Next up is the Leafs’ main camp and Nylander feels he’s ready to make an impact.

“They know the way I play. If they want me there and they feel like I’m ready, then they know where to put me,” he said. “Going into camp I just want to work hard and show in every practice that I’m ready.”

So does Nylander think he’s ready to make the jump to the NHL level? Well, he’s got an NHL-ready verbal game, saying all the right things at the right time.

“That’s something we’ll have to see. I haven’t played at the NHL level yet, so we’ll have to see about that.”

But the sly smile on his face as he said it may betray the confidence that he’s prepared to make the jump.

“I’ve put in a lot of work over the summer. Now it’s just coming down to being ready on the ice and showing what I can do.”

Follow Jason Menard on Twitter via @JayCMenard