NHL: SEP 13 Rookie Tournament - Blackhawks v Maple Leafs

“I mean we’re soft,” William Nylander said, shaking his head following a 5-2 loss to Team Canada in an exhibition game that has no bearing on the upcoming World Juniors.

His team, the ‘soft’ one, took six minor penalties in the game, including three roughing penalties, a boarding penalty against Christoffer Ehn and a number of big hits, two on Canada’s star forward, Connor McDavid.

Still, Nylander thought they were soft.

Despite a primary assist on a pass to Gustav Forsling on his team’s first goal and a drawn penalty shot that led to a goal of his own, hauled down after getting loose at the blueline, Nylander wasn’t happy with his performance, or his team’s, either. 

“We can’t play like this in the tournament,” he said, shaking his head again. “We gave them too much time and space, we let them play around.”

The 2014 first round draft pick wasn’t prepared for excuses, even when there were some. He expects them to win and he expects himself to perform. 

“We know we have a young team and have a lot to learn,” Sweden’s head coach Rikard Gronborg said following the game. 

Sweden, a team with only 10 players born in 1995, has few returning players.

“We don’t look at a passport when we decide who’s going to be on the team but at the same time it’s a tough experience and there’s a lot of people here watching the game and maybe some of the guys weren’t ready to go right from the start,” Gronborg said. 

Unlike Nylander, Gronborg remained positive, despite the youth and injury troubles to returning goalie Jonas Johansson and star draft eligible prospect Oliver Kylington, both who will miss the tournament.

“We know we’re the youngest squad but we also have huge upside on this team,” Gronborg said.

Nylander, who will play in his first World Junior when the tournament kicks off on Boxing Day, has led Team Sweden in previous international play, including under-18 action that saw him named the tournament’s best forward, nearly outscoring his competition by double.

This season, he’s pacing towards potential record-breaking numbers on a Modo team that struggles to score and win games in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL). In a league where few score at a point-per-game pace, Nylander is doing just that as a teenager.

Still, his two points in an exhibition game weren’t enough to keep him confident moving forward.

Gronborg though, had nothing but good things to say about his star forward.

“He can both pass and shoot the puck, he’s pretty dynamic in the offensive end of the game,” Gronborg said. “He brings a lot to the table so it’s pretty tough to scout him, especially on the power play.” 

For Nylander, it seems to come natural.

“You just go when you feel like you can get a good chance,” he said of the play that led to his penalty shot, describing the play in vivid detail. “I saw that the defensemen stepped on the winger and he [the winger] was able to chip by.” 

Whether Nylander’s happy with himself or not, his coach is going to lean on him heavily.

He has lined up with Modo teammate and Los Angeles Kings prospect Adrian Kempe and Philadelphia Flyers prospect Oskar Lindblom. He also anchors the team’s top powerplay unit.

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