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William Nylander stands with Toronto Maple Leafs officials after being chosen eighth overall during the first round of the NHL hockey draft, Friday, June 27, 2014, in Philadelphia.The Associated Press

He was impressive zipping around the rink, making highlight-reel plays and looking out of place – in a good way, as advertised.

William Nylander showed why he is one of the Toronto Maple Leafs' top prospects on the weekend, playing in only one rookie tournament game as he awaits his first NHL training camp.

Now the question becomes what to do with the eighth overall pick in last June's draft.

This is a heated debate every year with top prospects. They come in as teenagers, impress early against their peers, then often falter against seasoned pros as they play out their first or second training camp and the half-dozen or so exhibition games that come with it.

Few hang on to play 10 regular-season games and burn a year of their entry-level contract – although that is becoming more common.

Teenagers in the NHL

Last season, 13 players who were 18 or 19 years old (as of Feb. 1) played 10-plus games in the NHL, the highest mark since all the way back in 1984-85, when Mario Lemieux and 16 other teenagers broke in.

In the past seven seasons, an average of 10 teenagers have cracked NHL lineups beyond the nine-game mark.

The chances Nylander will join that group this season are slim. But because he's a player drafted out of Europe who doesn't have a contract overseas, he's in a unique position with all kinds of options for where he might play.

The Leafs haven't made any decisions yet. Instead, they plan to use the two-and-a-half weeks of training camp to see how Nylander fits in before making the call.

There are pros and cons to all of their choices.


Yes, the NHL is becoming more of a young man's league – the salary cap makes their cheap entry-level deals appealing, and the opening up of the game gives speed and skill higher priority over size and strength.

But the Leafs loaded up with depth forwards in the off-season, and almost all of them require waivers to go to the minors. Multiple injuries or a trade could open the door for Nylander to get an audition of nine games, but sticking for the entire year will be extremely difficult.

Not burning a year of his contract to play him in a limited role also makes a lot of sense for Toronto.

Chances Nylander starts season there: 2 per cent

Junior hockey

The Mississauga Steelheads selected Nylander in the import draft in the summer, but it appears to be a wasted pick. He doesn't want to play there, has already turned pro in Sweden and the Leafs will want him to continue to play against men in order to get stronger.

Chances Nylander starts season there: 0 per cent


Unlike many young players, Nylander can play with the Toronto Marlies before he's 20 years old. That's a rare option – players drafted out of Canadian junior leagues aren't eligible for the AHL as teens – and it could give the Leafs an advantage. Stashing Nylander down the street with the Marlies would allow the Leafs brass to keep a very close eye on his development and give him a chance to become more acclimatized to the pro game in North America, not to mention his new home city.

Nylander, however, would have to be willing. He would earn substantially less money in the minors than overseas; his AHL salary of $70,000 would mean taking a pay cut of up to four or five times his SHL salary.

Chances Nylander starts season there: 45 per cent

Swedish Hockey League

It's where he played much of last season, and it's one of the top professional leagues in the world. It's also typical for top NHL prospects from Sweden to spend their 18- and 19-year-old seasons at home. But Nylander grew up largely in North America where his father, Michael, had an extensive NHL career.

Playing in Sweden, however, would come with the added benefit of keeping him out of the Toronto media spotlight. With the Marlies, Nylander could be recalled at any time, potentially putting undue pressure on a young player.

Going back to Sweden would likely only be a one-year deal, but it remains the likeliest possibility.

Chances Nylander starts season there: 53 per cent