In recent years, Sweden has sent several prospects to the NHL Draft, with a few of them being chosen in the first round. After producing such potentially great prospects as Mka Zibanejad, Filip Forsberg and Elias Lindholm in the past couple of drafts, Calgary-born son of Michael Nylander, William Nylander, is heading this year's Swedish draft class. The next big Swedish gun is not Swedish-born, but he definitely has a lot of Sweden in his veins.
Coming from a pure hockey family can make things a bit easier for a young player. Not that young William had to work less for great results than other players, but he must have taken some hockey talent from his father Michael, an NHL veteran of 14 seasons who still is an active professional hockey player at the age of 40. Being around hockey since day one of your life also is a huge advantage. Now, it's up to the older of two Nylander's sons to cash in.
William Nylander Altelius was born in 1996, back when his father played for the Calgary Flames. By then not just an NHL star, but also a Swedish national-team player at the Olympic Games, the older Nylander moved around the league a good bit, and even outside the NHL, too. Besides playing for Tampa Bay, Chicago, Washington, Boston and the New York Rangers over the course of his NHL career, he also played two years in Europe, including Switzerland, Finland and Russia.
By 2008, the younger Nylander played for Team Maryland of the American Youth Hockey League. At 12 years of age, he posted better stats than then 15-year-old Johnny Gaudreau, a current Flames prospect and Boston College forward. Two years later, after his father's NHL career ended, Nylander played for the Chicago Mission in an Under-16 competition. In Chicago, he teamed up with another 2014 NHL Draft prospect, Nick Schmaltz, and scored 61 points in 29 games.
Instead of staying in North America and choosing between the major junior and college hockey paths, Nylander chose to return to Sweden in 2011, the same year that marks the end of his father's North American career. Michael has since then played in Switzerland and Italy before reuniting with his oldest son. In the meantime, William honed his skills playing for teams in the Under-16 to Under-20 categories in Stockholm and Södertälje, a city in Stockholm County.
Nylander decided to stay in Södertälje for the entire 2012-13 hockey season. That's the year when he had his first real crack at the SuperElit, the Swedish elite junior league that arguably belongs in the world's top five. He led his team with 43 points in 27 games, but missed the play-offs due to the Södertälje organization recalling him for their Allsvenskan team, where he played on a line with his father.
Together they played in 18 games and combined for 25 points in the regular season and 10 points in 10 games post-season games. Södertälje failed to reach promotion to the Swedish Elite League, though. Also in the 2012-13 season, Nylander played at the Under-18 WJC in Sochi, Russia, but only collected three points in five games in that tournament. He also travelled with the same national team to the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in August, recording six points in four games.
The upcoming season of Swedish hockey will tell scouts more about Nylander, even though everybody already knows he is among the best the 2014 draft class has to offer. It looks like the 17-year-old forward will play the whole season with his father for Rögle, another organization with its first team in the Allsvenskan, the second-highest Swedish hockey league.
Nylander showed off his abilities often and well at this year's Ivan Hlinka. He's an offensive weapon and has a great shot, fast skating ability, and smooth hands. He is also great on the forecheck, but should work on his defensive play and pass the puck more often. Ranked by many in the top-three for the upcoming draft, Nylander seems to be a true generational talent although there is still a lot of work for him to do.
Hockey's Future: William, what's the feeling of representing your country at a tournament like the Ivan Hlinka?
William Nylander: It's really fun. You get to play against the best players in the world. Makes you have fun playing hockey and wanting to win.
HF: This game was pretty emotional. Do you like to play in games like that?
WN: Yes, it's fun. When it gets heated between the teams, I really love it.
HF: Everybody around hockey knows your father Michael. Can you talk about his influence on your game?
WN: He's very influential, he's helped me every day. I played with him last season and he helped me a lot both on and off the ice. He's just there for me and hopefully he'll help me to play where I want to play one day. In the next season, we're going to play together again.
HF: You have a younger brother named Alexander. Does growing up with a brother who plays hockey make you somehow more competitive?
WN: At home we get competitive. Whatever sport we play, we're competing with each other. It really helps. I mean we both push each other on and off the ice, we go to the gym and work out together. It's really good having him there and he's also a good player so I think he'll get somewhere, too.
HF: You were raised in North America, but decided to go to play in Sweden two years ago. How difficult was that for you?
WN: It wasn't a big deal for me. I had friends in Sweden because I practised there every summer. I was able to catch up with them and besides that, school and other stuff was all fine. I also knew some of the players from this team already, for example Robin Kovacs, Dmytro Timashov or Daniel Muzito Bagenda.
HF: Talk about your Under-18 World Junior Championship experience.
WN: It was really fun. Just like here, you play against the world's top players. However, they're in an age category above you. I tried to be better than them.
HF: You also got to play in a professional hockey league, the Swedish Allsvenskan. How big was that for you?
WN: I played there with my father and it was really fun, too. I played eighteen games up there and it was a great experience. It's different hockey and it teaches you a lot.
HF: How would you describe your style of play?
WN: I'd say I'm a forward who goes forechecking often and then makes plays that lead to goals. If I had to pick one of my favorite NHL players who play similar style, I'd choose John Tavares.
HF: Before the draft, what do you need to work on the most?
WN: Everything can be improved, I can't really think of one thing that I'd need to work on more than other things.
HF: You're among the top prospects for the upcoming 2014 NHL Draft. Do you feel any pressure?
WN: No, not really. I just look forward to it and try to make sure that I work hard. Hopefully I can get better and get drafted. It's a motivation for me.
HF: Is there a team you would prefer to be drafted by?
WN: I have no idea, but maybe I'd say Chicago.
Follow Radoslav Vavrina on Twitter via @Pacific4_Rado_V