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NHL: MARSHALL – William Nylander’s point streak showcases his downhill drive

Toronto Maple Leafs right wing William Nylander (88)

William Nylander stole a significant number of headlines in the early portion of the season by registering a point for the Maple Leafs in each of their first 18 games of the season. This season-opening point streak set a franchise record for Toronto and has etched Nylander in team lore, while making his next contract a hot topic of conversation in and out of Toronto.

Nylander's streak highlighted the best of what he has to offer offensively and has put him on the map as one of the most effective puck carriers in the league, full stop. When evaluating Nylander's behaviors during the streak, the core element to his game that brought him and the team success is his ability to carry the puck to high-danger areas, dangling through traffic and keeping his feet moving throughout the process.

His mobility, combined with his lower body strength and puck protection abilities, has made him arguably the best slot-presence player in the league right now.

That isn't an imagined result, either. Looking at shot generation totals for the Maple Leafs via - we can see where Toronto thrives in taking shots when Nylander is on the ice. Areas of red on this map indicate spots on the ice where the Maple Leafs take an excess number of shots compared to league average. Focus on the area in front of the net, it's drowning in red.

That area of deep crimson on the side of the net is the area Nylander has made his home office. And he isn't just skating there and planting himself to wait for opportunities (although we'll see plenty of examples of him lingering in a scoring area unmarked), the true driver behind this success is his ability to carry the puck through high-traffic areas with a great deal of speed. He has taken defenders on long journey's through the neutral and offensive zones throughout the course of his point streak and beyond.

Nylander's data around carrying the puck as tracked through the All Three Zones project puts him at or near the top of the forward group for the Leafs in a number of categories. He averages 15 carry-ins per 60 minutes of hockey, second on the team to Auston Matthew's at 16 per hour. Nylander crosses the offensive blueline with the puck on his stick for 76 percent of his carry-in's, a success rate unmatched by anyone else on the Toronto roster. He has one less total carry-in than Matthew's does this season and is second on the team in that regard.

What I love watching most about Nylander is how quickly he drives downhill. He uses his stick to put small touches on the puck that keep the puck's momentum moving forward, sending it beyond the reach of a defenseman, and keeps his feet moving to power right past any defender that attempts to engage him physically. The result is a puck that continues moving up ice quickly and a player with enough momentum to laterally move beyond the defender attempting to mark him. Quite often, this approach springs Nylander on a rush through the neutral zone for a high-quality offensive chance.

Let's take a look at some video clips of this approach in action.

The defender in this clip is solely focused on pressing Nylander with a strong gap and robbing him of his time and space. Nylander avoids that by moving the puck forward with one touch. Keeping moving up ice and immediately skating right by the defender attempting to pivot into him.

We see this play all the time from Nylander as a means to spring himself beyond the defense. His skating drives this technique and gaining speed through the neutral zone feeds the result. In this clip, we'll see Nylander skate right at two defensemen from the Florida Panthers and use the same push-forward technique on the puck to draw a penalty.

As Nylander keeps the puck moving, he creates individual footraces between he and the opposing defenseman, that, given his speed, put him at a distinct advantage to win the puck. Defensemen need to either turn around and skate with Nylander, back up from Nylander, or take a penalty as we saw in the clip above. In any circumstance, these puck-pushing plays create new lanes for Nylander to operate and put the opposing defensemen under duress.

I mentioned earlier that I thought Nylander was the best North-to-South slot-driving player in the league and there's a lot of video evidence to support that as well. We've talked about speed, but I also want to talk about Nylander's ability to drop his shoulder and drive hard through difficult areas using his footwork and mobility.

This, to me, has been at the core of what Nylander has accomplished this season. He is playing like a bulldozer, moving downhill with speed and tossing defenders aside by out-maneuvering them through high-danger areas. In fact, Nylander routinely takes the puck away from the net so he can create space for himself to drive to the net. He carries the puck away from scoring areas first, towards the offensive blueline, so he can gain momentum to make his drives to the net.

Let's take a look at some examples of this in action. In the next clip, Nylander skates north to gain the momentum to head south. Pay close attention to the sheer patience he exhibits in distributing this puck.

Nylander has so much space in that clip because of his speed and his non-traditional path to the net. He heads up ice to gain momentum and speed, turning towards the blueline to shake off the defenders attempting to mark him. The result is enough speed and bear-down on the puck to get him directly to a high-quality scoring area where he simply out-waits his opponents and distributes the puck at the last possible moment he can. He waits for his lane to appear before making his move.

Nylander creates two quality chances in the next clip, and one of them off the exact loop north that we just discussed. By lingering near the net front tucked behind the defense, Nylander has an initial opportunity, but he loops towards the offensive blueline to garner his second scoring chance in the fashion we just discussed.

Nylander has become one of the most powerful skaters in the league. This next clip is evidence as to why. This is a full bull-rush through the neutral zone that sees Nylander use his lateral mobility to change his lane on the defenseman and create his own path to drive hard to the net. Notice his posture, his skating, and where he keeps the puck in relation to the defenseman. This is a situation where Nylander takes nothing and turns it into something solely via his skating ability.

It asks a lot of a defenseman to be able to handle that kind of shoulder-down rush through the offensive zone.

But it isn't just skating on display here. Nylander has mastered the ability to get lost in the shuffle and lose himself among defensemen. His mobility and momentum are used to carry him out of the line of sight of the defensemen and deep into an open space where he can be available to finish a chance.

This is another mark of a great goal scorer. When you are on a heater like Nylander is, you're going to draw extra attention to yourself in the offensive zone. Nylander loses that attention and lurks in the shadows, waiting for the exact opportunity to present itself for an offensive chance.

In the next clip, Nylander takes a wide swing through the offensive zone, looping through an area the defense is not interested in so that he can find space deeper in the zone. The wide path he takes completely loses him in the fray and enables him to spring loose for a scoring chance.

Nylander is completely out of the frame when the sequence begins and because of his late drive to the net, no defenseman has found him down low.

In the next clip, we see another similar situation to this. Follow Nylander into the offensive zone and watch as he lurks out of the line of sight of the defense. No one has him marked in this sequence because of where he positions himself in the offensive zone.

Nylander is completely hidden on this sequence. He goes from controlling the zone entry and possession of the puck to hidden from the opposition almost immediately. This is a perfect example of how to keep yourself unmarked by the defense.

Because Nylander has so much time and space available to him in these clips, he's able to execute high-quality shots in the moment. Whether it be the spin maneuver for a quick shot attempt we saw earlier or widening his base to get maximum momentum on a one timer here, the path Nylander takes to these places gives him ample time to assess himself for a proper shooting attempt.

While the point streak may be over, Nylander's drives to the net haven't stopped. He is dominating the game with his ability to both carry the puck into high danger areas with great patience or lose himself in the fray post-possession and prime himself for a scoring chance.

Defenders that want to limit Nylander have a lot of skating in front of them. While he may not be the fastest player in the league, Nylander is using his combination of speed and shoulder-down drive to the net to achieve great success in the league so far this season.