Today's the day the William Nylander saga finally ends. He will presumably sign somewhere, and once he does this begs the question, how good will he finally get's on the ice? Today I took an alternative approach to project William Nylander's future on ice performance.
To do so I've used a catch all statistic called C-Score, which improves upon my old goals above replacement (GAR). Basically the goal of C-Score is to condense all the things a player does into a single number. From there you can judge a player based off their total output rather than just say, points. With C-Score I've developed a system to come up with historical comparables for each player. It does this by taking how similar each of their inputs are and weighing them by importance. So, for example, similar offensive style at 5v5 is more important than winning a similar percentage of your face-offs, because 5v5 offence accounts for a much larger percentage of players overall output.
FInally there is an age adjustment. Rather than comparing William Nylander against everyone to play in the past decade, the projection will only compare him to fellow 21 year olds (his age last season). So who are Willy's closest comparables at the same age? Let's take a look. Note that these are ranked, so Eberle is the #1 comp, Ehlers is #2 and so on. (Also random fun fact, without the age adjustment I actually have WIlly's closest comparable as a 22 year old Phil Kessel, his first season in Toronto).
William Nylander's camp has likely been citing Leon Draisaitl's contract to get more money, and the Maple Leafs are likely citing Nikolaj Ehlers's deal to keep Willy's AAV down, so it's interesting they show up as his second and third closest comparables. Hopefully this gives more credit to the idea neither side is right or wrong, it's just business.
More generally, It's hard to over state how impressive William Nylander's performance up to to age 21 is. Over the past decade, his comparables include all-stars like; Patrick Kane, Nathan Mackinnon, Aleksander Barkov, Steven Stamkos Tyler Seguin, David Pasternak , Johhny Gaudreau, Jamie Benn, Filip Forsberg and Nikita Kucherov.
That's 10 unquestionable superstars! And there were only 25 non-Nylander players used as comparables. Those are very, very good odds, and the number might have even been higher if we knew how Ehlers, Draisaitl and Larkin's next few seaosns will pan out. Rather than looking at a general age curve to project Nylander, I wanted to project him based off these comparables, and how they aged into their 22 year old season. The hope is that this might give Leafs Nation a better idea of what to expect from Nylander in the NHL this season. To get this idea, I created 3 projections for Nylander which should outline his expected range of outcomes. Let's start with the mean projection.
The greenish dot right below the blue line shows Nylanders mean projection. This what I would consider the most realistic projection for Nylander based off his comparables, and it sits right inside the top 30 NHL forwards. That is incredibly impressive for a 22 year old forward, and would significantly boosts the Leafs expected winning percentage every night he's in the lineup. Also, it's worth noting that the 30th highest paid forward in the NHL right now is Ryan Kesler, making $6,850,000. (Thanks Cap Friendly). Thanks to inflation and the likelihood of continued growth from Nylander he will likely be worth an even higher cap hit over the long run.
Of course, age curves are very noisy. Not everyone follows the average trend, so I looked at Nylander's projection if he is one standard deviation above his comp's average to get an idea of what the ceiling is for this player.
The purple dot above the "Top 15 Forward Line", that's the upper bounds for Nylander. This would drive him close to a top 10 forward in the NHL. Is this terribly likely? No, in fact it may be even less likely than usual because he's sat for so long. But age curves are much nosier than we give them credit for, and this represents Nylander's ceiling. Basically the sky is the limit for a player as young and talented as he is, hopefully fans have not forgotten that. Again it's worth noting, the 15th highest paid player in the NHL today makes $8,250,000 giving any realistic extension the potential to be a massive bargain right away.
Finally we have the more pessimistic projection. This is if Nylander drops by one standard deviation and represents his floor, or worst reasonable scenario.
The green dot lying below the "average first liner" is the lower bounds of Nylander's projection range. Nobody likes to think that their young players will be the one's get worse, but the reality is it happens all the time. If Nylander does lose a step the Leafs should be prepared for him to fall as far as the 70th best forward in hockey. This represents some of the risks we often forget about with young players, some of them do get worse, luckily for the Nylander, the lower bounds I have projected is still a first liner, and worth about $5,750,000 today. Not bad for a floor.
Altogether the question of "How good is William Nylander going to be?" is probably a lot more uncertain than most people think. Age curves are weird, so a single number projection probably isn't ideal. However it's reasonable to expect once Nylander gets back into the NHL, he should be around the top 30 forwards while acknowledging he could realistically climb as high as a the top 15, or fall as far as the 70th.