2014 Draft Profile: William Nylander

Last year, for the first time in his career as a GM, Dale Tallon turned his sights to Europe with his first pick of the draft. Selecting Aleksander Barkov out of Finland, the Florida Panthers may have shocked the masses but secured their team’s first line center of the present and future with the choice. Tallon struck gold with Barkov and may once again take a look into the European prospect pool. Enter Swedish right-winger, William Nylander. Nylander is the son of former NHLer, Michael Nylander. Although born in Alberta while his father was a member of the Calgary Flames, Nylander was raised in Sweden. It is in Sweden where Nylander began to hone his craft and one day follow in his father’s footsteps to become an NHL player.

Nylander may be the number two ranked European prospect by NHL Central Scouting, but it is not by much. Nylander has turned a lot of heads especially after an incredible U-18 World Junior Championship performance for Team Sweden where he posted a tournament leading 16 points (6-10-16) in just seven games. During this time it became an ongoing rumor that the Panthers were interested in bringing Nylander into the fold. A player like Nylander is not looked at as the number one overall selection at the draft, but to the young players credit he still has the skills to be a top ten draft choice. Ian Altenbaugh of Hockeysfuture.com weighed in on the prospect of whether Florida trading down and taking Nylander could be the right move,

“Right or wrong, Panthers GM Dale Tallon reportedly has interest in Nylander. His father, Michael Nylander, was also a player Tallon coveted as a GM, to the point where he was rumored to have tried to trade for him in 2009, prior to his firing as Chicago’s GM. 

Nylander could be a player who either sneaks into the top 5 or a player who could drop down past the top 15. He played on a lot of different teams this season too, finding levels of success that varied quite a bit from team to team and league to league. He has tantalizing skill, and the popular sentiment is he could be the most individually skilled player in the draft. He is also on the smaller side however, and does not look like he will ever be a particularly imposing player physically. He is shifty and elusive in puck battles, though we’re talking a different style of hockey than in North America. Nylander reminds me of Teuvo Teravainen (Chicago Blackhawks) from a scouting standpoint. He has oodles of skill but is going to need to get stronger, learn to play better at both ends of the ice, and to shoot the puck a little more. “

The 5’11″, 170lbs, Nylander, enters the 2014 draft as a prospect who has experience playing with men. During the 2013-14 season Nylander bounced around the Swedish second league (Allsvenskan) being loaned to two different teams. In his first professional game as a member of Södertälje SK, Nylander played alongside his father and also recorded his first professional point with an assist. In 35 games, Nylander posted 27 points (15-12-27) during his campaign in the second league, while splitting time between SK and the top league in Sweden, the  where he suited up for MODO. Playing in the SHL showed to be a bit of an adjustment for the speedy Swede, where he compiled seven points (1-6-7) in 22 games.

Solid right wings, that are actually right-handed are bit harder to come by in the NHL than ever before, especially those with high-end skill. If Nylander were to be chosen by the Panthers, he fills a huge void on the right side of the Florida system. The right shot forward quickly becomes the premiere right wing prospect after a huge dropoff in talent of that position. While players like Drew Shore or Vincent Trocheck might be entertained by management to become right wingers, the Panthers lack natural right wingers outside of Brad Boyes and Jimmy Hayes and in the pipeline, Logan Shaw. The speed and skill set of Nylander as well as being a natural right wing may be a big reason why Tallon is “allegedly” looking so intently at the Swede.

His dynamic playmaking ability and slick hands have brought him comparisons to a playing style similar to Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes. A flashy player who can distribute the puck as well as put it in the net is the type of player many teams covet, and one the Panthers have with Huberdeau as well. Nylander and Huberdeau as wingers together could pose a great threat to opposing teams for the years to come. Even pairing Nylander alongside a shooter like Nick Bjugstad at center could be a tempting thought…but in this draft, Tallon will look for the winger who could compliment Barkov best for years to come. When comparing the style that Barkov plays with that of Nylander and how it could mesh, Altenbaugh replied with,

“You never really know until you see it for real, but I think a lot would depend on the third linemate. They are on opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of size, Nylander is smaller while Barkov is huge. They are also distinctly different types of players, Nylander is known for his individual skill level and ability to pass the puck (sometimes into high traffic areas). Barkov is more of a safer, meat and potatoes forward, who should develop into a pretty solid two-way player. That said, if they could find a third linemate who is physical and provides a good net front presence, there could be some nice potential there.”

Seemingly, Barkov has shown an ability to play well with just about anyone he had been paired with to this point. While Nylander may have defensive lapses in his game, a player like Barkov could cover up those mistakes and distribute the puck to the elusive winger. While this is all still speculation and reports may have linked Nylander to Florida in possible scenarios, Nylander is certainly not NHL ready just yet. A lack of size and strength for Nylander would hinder him in the NHL and there is absolutely no need to rush the winger and possibly hurt his development. Nylander is eligible to play in the AHL if signed to a contract by Florida next season or he could opt to return to Europe and play for MODO. The option of signing Nylander and sending him to the San Antonio Rampage could be tempting for Florida. With this choice, Nylander could continue his development playing at a high-level against men while also learning the North American style.

With trade rumors involving the first overall pick whirling around the Panthers like an impending storm ready to give way, the decision to trade down and select one of Europe’s finest should not shock Panthers fans as much as it did last year on draft day. If the Panthers do decide to pick a couple of spots lower, Nylander could very well be leaving Philadelphia as a Florida Panther.

HEIGHT: 5’11″
WEIGHT: 170 lbs.

Season Team Lge GP G A Pts PIM +/-
2012-13 Sodertalje SK Swe-1 8 4 2 6 2 2
2013-14 Sodertalje SK Swe-1 17 11 8 19 6 2
2013-14 Rogle BK Swe-1 18 4 4 8 10
2013-14 Modo Hockey Ornskoldsvik SweHL 22 1 6 7 6 -3

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