Is Sheldon Keefe’s criticism of William Nylander warranted?

Perhaps William Nylander would have momentarily escaped his coach’s ire if the Toronto Maple Leafs were able to take care of business against the bottom-feeding Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night.

But they did not. And a clearly frustrated Sheldon Keefe was blunt in his post-game assessment of William Nylander’s game of-late. His brief assessment: not good enough.

Toronto has found itself in a precarious position of late – the team is still playing well and a playoff berth is all guaranteed, but cracks are starting to form. As other Eastern Conference contenders start to elevate their play, Toronto’s headed in the opposite direction, and much of it has to do with ugly goaltending from the likes of Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek. (Erik Kallgren, to his credit, has been solid in spot duty.)

Nylander being the player to draw criticism here is interesting. Forwards can go through myriad slumps over the course of the season, but some of those slumps are more concerning than others. A player whose scoring production has dipped in parallel with less offensive volume is of concern; a player who has seen scoring drop despite generating heaps of scoring chances tend to be guys dealing with a rash of bad luck. These are also the types of players who tend to rebound over time.

Nylander won’t be mistaken for a top-tier scorer, but rather an effective two-way player who can control games at both ends of the ice. This season, Nylander has amassed 59 points (24 goals and 35 assists) in 64 games. Assuming this pace holds, Nylander will break his single-season scoring record (61 points), and he has an outside chance at catching his single-season goal scoring record (31 goals). The offence has been there.

Trended over the course of his career, it’s hard to see where Toronto would be concerned with offensive production. Both even-strength and all situations rate-scoring are in a multi-year uptrend, shots follow a similar pattern, and this season, he’s around 82nd percentile for qualified forwards.

Author: Lucy Green