It was the summer (and fall) of William Nylander in the hockey universe, but it’s certainly not his year now that the regular season is underway.
Sure, that can change.
The 22-year-old was a contract holdout until zero hour on December 1 and finally signed a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs just minutes ahead of the deadline, inking on the line for six years. But the former restricted free agent has struggled mightily since finally hitting the ice.
Friday, Nylander found himself on the fourth line Friday against the Florida Panthers.
He has just three points in 19 games and at this point one almost wonders if he’ll hit the 13-point total of his debut season in 2015-2016. Of course, he played just 22 games that year before exploding for back-to-back 61-point seasons.
And as much as it is likely that Nylander will return to that form, you have to imagine the Maple Leafs are starting to have questions. They shelled out $45 million for the guy and had to do some serious juggling to get it done. On top of that, the Nylander contract means other contracts – like any impending deals for Mitch Marner of Auston Matthews – will go through the proverbial ringer.
Right now, things are more immediate. Toronto dropped Friday’s game to Florida by a final score of 3-1 and looked crummy.
And there was Nylander, set for a juicy signing bonus on July 1 and earning over $53,000 a day, on the fourth line.
“The bottom line is we don’t want Willy on the fourth line. We want Willy being a contributor for our hockey club,” said head coach Mike Babcock. “He’s an honest kid and usually puts in a good effort. He’ll continue to work at it. He’s never been through anything probably like this before, it’s tough catching up as you can see.”
Naturally, there were expectations of a shortfall.
Nylander was never going to be the guy that jumps, Mario Lemieux-like, back into the fold after missing big chunks of hockey. And he’s looked sharp at times, like against Tampa on Thursday, and that’s been enough to get Toronto to exercise a bit more tolerance.
But now? The team is losing and Nylander is right along with it, dropping to just three shifts in the second stanza against Florida. In 12:15 of ice time, he didn’t clock a shot. Oh, and he was on the ice for all three Panthers’ goals. That made him a minus-3 player on the night.
What comes next is anybody’s guess. There have already been rumours of a trade for Nylander, something to give him fresh coat of paint after a dreadful year. That would take a few broken “promises,” which happen in hockey, but it might be the way to go. And there’s always the possibility of benching the dude for a game, maybe let some of it sink in.
“It affects you,” said Nylander. “Obviously, you want to score and you want to produce, I mean that’s why you’re here. You’ve just got to dig deep and work harder and harder. Do all the little things that you can do to get better.”