The rich just got richer. I’m not talking about William Nylander and the $40M+ contract he just signed – I’m talking about a star-studded line-up in Toronto that, starting tonight, has Nylander back in the mix. He’s a dynamic player who can impact the game in a number of ways but I want to focus on one area, literally, where he adds a ton of value – the neutral zone.
As we’ve talked about before, the Leafs are capable of jumping on teams quickly by stretching passes into the neutral zone to create offensive chances off the rush. Last season, Nylander was one of their most impactful forwards in the neutral zone on both sides of the puck. He had the puck on his stick more than any Maple Leafs skater in the neutral zone, partially because he’s a terrific skater capable of transporting the puck from the defensive zone up the ice and partially because he’s so good at getting the puck back when he doesn’t have it.
Detail about William Nylander's game that impresses is his play away from the puck in the neutral zone. Great at tracking and anticipating plays and has the tools to generate offence going the other way. Led all forwards in NZ stick checks last season - Barkov 2nd. #TMLtalk pic.twitter.com/U8PjFwAqGR
— Mike Kelly (@MikeKellyNHL) September 6, 2018
Yes, Nylander led all NHL forwards in neutral zone stick checks, plays where he’s able to separate an opponent from the puck with his stick.
He also recovered more loose pucks in the neutral zone than any Maple Leafs forward in 2017-18.
Nylander’s ability to skate the puck from the defensive zone when he has the puck and get pucks back in the neutral zone when he doesn’t, led to his team-high 363 controlled zone entries, nearly 100 more than Mitch Marner who ranked 2nd on the team. Once in the offensive zone, Nylander’s dynamic skill-set led to a team high 62 scoring chances created off the rush. Over half of his even-strength goals came off the rush.
As for distributing the puck, Nylander led the Maple Leafs in a key passing metric, pass completions to the slot with 94.
Auston Matthews, who has 15 goals in 14 games and is one of the top slot shot generators in the league, just got the top slot passer on the team back. Look out. The Maple Leafs are an offensive juggernaut as it is, ranking 1st in even-strength goals per game, averaging 2.86 and 3rd in total goals per game, averaging 3.64. Add Nylander, his speed, puck moving ability and puck retrieval ability to the line-up and, yes the rich just got a whole lot richer.
(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)