With each passing game, William Nylander makes himself more and more of an untouchable commodity.
Not that a 20-year-old who was the Toronto Maple Leafs' first pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, and just happens to rank second in team rookie scoring and third in NHL rookie scoring, should be even remotely concerned about being moved. But anyone who follows the team knows it's in desperate need of a stud on the blue-line, and acquiring one could mean one of the team's precious young forwards may have to be sacrificed.
The Maple Leafs have been invigorated this season by a pair of 19-year-olds — Auston Matthews, who established a franchise record for most goals by a rookie with his 35th against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday — and Mitch Marner — a high-scoring, jockey-sized water bug with the heart of a lion.
So naturally, in keeping with the notion that you have to give up something to get something in return, Nylander's name has been whispered as possible trade bait.
However, with his current 12-game points streak — a franchise record for freshmen — Nylander may have entrenched himself as an untouchable. With the Maple Leafs in a position to make the playoffs for the first time in four seasons, the fact the kids are driving the bus has not been lost on the young Swede.
"Going through everything with a lot of rookies has been special," Nylander said. "It's a lot of fun."
While Matthews has garnered lots of attention as the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft and leads the team in scoring with 35 goals and 62 points in 75 games, and Marner has wowed fans with his speed and skill, Nylander has taken huge strides toward becoming a go-to player in his first full season in the league.
No one has ever denied his skill. The son of former NHLer Michael Nylander, William arrived with a reputation of being strictly offence-oriented. Even when he had success last season, scoring six goals and 13 points during a late-season 22-game call-up, Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock never passed on an opportunity to mention his defensive shortcomings. To make it as a successful NHLer, Nylander, according to the coach, needed to play a better 200-foot game. He has done that.
Nylander was drafted as a centre, but in order to stick with the Maple Leafs, it meant a shift to the wing. The Leafs are comfortable with their top four centres — Matthews, Tyler Bozak, Nazem Kadri and Brian Boyle — and Nylander has adapted quite comfortably to playing on the right wing on the team's top unit with Matthews and Zach Hyman.
Nylander is blessed with speed and skill. He can make things happen with the puck while traveling at top speed, yet he also possesses the ability to control the pace of the game with his puck-handling ability. He is also building a reputation as a great set-up man.
And then there's the shot. Much like former Maple Leaf Phil Kessel, Nylander is a deadly accurate shooter and can strike from anywhere.
"Everyone knows he has unbelievable vision and great skating ability, but he's got a pretty unbelievable release," Matthews said.
Nylander has made a conscious effort to work on that aspect of his game.
"It's just practice," Nylander said. "You've got to just go out and shoot pucks during the summer. Whenever you have time, just go shoot pucks. That will help you for sure."
Nylander earned a bonus of $212,500 US for scoring his 20th goal of the season and will earn a similar bonus if he reaches 60 points.
The quarterback on the team's No. 1 power-play unit, which ranks second in the NHL with a 23.5 per cent success rate, has earned the respect of his coach.
Babcock appreciates Nylander's skating and determination.
"Willy's got great edges and a great understanding of the game," Babcock conceded.
Just two of the qualities that make him a keeper in Toronto.