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Toronto Maple Leafs William Nylander attends training camp in Toronto on Sept. 18.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

He was fourth in the Swedish Hockey League in points per game, with 20 in 21.

He was the highest scoring non-Canadian player at the world juniors, with 10 in seven.

Now William Nylander is taking his talents to North America and the American Hockey League. But not the NHL.

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Not yet anyway.

Some of this is simply about playing time. Nylander's Swedish team, MODO, has only 20 games left; the Toronto Marlies will have 37 in the regular season alone by the time he arrives next week and look poised to make the playoffs after going 6-0-3 in their last nine games.

The Marlies also have a huge hole at centre. With captain Trevor Smith up with the Leafs, the minor league team's depth up the middle is limited to Greg McKegg, Byron Froese and Ryan Rupert – perhaps the thinnest centre group in that league.

While the Leafs are saying there's no plan set for Nylander – their first-round pick, eighth overall last June – to be a winger or a centre, the playing time is there for the taking in the middle.

The Marlies are also the second lowest scoring team in the AHL and have a 12 per cent power play that can surely use his skillset.

Nylander, 18, has three things working against him making the big leap to the NHL, something he's not expected to do until next season at the earliest.

His lack of a refined defensive game and lack of size are two key factors, as he is under six feet and only about 175 pounds.

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The other this is learning the North American game, which includes not only the smaller rink – something that should be less of a problem given he grew up in Canada and the U.S. while his father was playing in the NHL – but also handling the physicality.

It's there the Leafs brass have some concerns.

"The most important thing for William is that he's a guy that has the puck a lot, but… he takes a lot of physical duress when he has it," assistant GM Kyle Dubas told TSN on Monday, explaining how Nylander needs to learn how to avoid that contact more. "Especially with him coming over to North America, it's going to be that much harder. The style of play is that much different."

The Leafs have had a lot of looks of Nylander over the last few months but having him with the Marlies – where he'll learn the organization's system from head coach Gord Dineen – is going to take that to another level.

One of the benefits of having the AHL club in the same city is that someone like Dubas can be intimately connected with the team's prospects, and president Brendan Shanahan has made improving the Leafs development process a huge priority in his first nine months on the job.

The organization has invested heavily in adding strength, conditioning and skills development staff over the last little while, and Nylander is going to be their first big test case.

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Can they help him become more than a small, raw talent? And can they do it better and faster than expected?

There have been a lot of promising young Swedish players flooding into the NHL the last few years, and the jump isn't as difficult as it's been in the past. William Karlsson, Viktor Rask, Mika Zibanejad, Rickard Rakell, Filip Forsberg, Alex Wennberg and Elias Lindholm are all very recent examples of forwards that have been able to step into the NHL at 21 or under and play a role.

Forsberg is likely the most instructive of the group as he came right out of Sweden's second division as a young 19 year old, played a key year in the minors in Milwaukee, and is now a difference maker – and potential Calder Trophy winner – for Nashville.

The time in the AHL helped him greatly, and the Leafs are looking for the same for Nylander.

"We need to be absolutely patient with these players," Dubas said, adding it was highly unlikely he would play for the Leafs this season, regardless of their injury situation. "Even if he has a big weekend or month with the Marlies, we need to do what's best for his development in the long term."

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