STOCKHOLM — At the corner of Hamungatan and Lellingsgatan streets, William Nylander’s sisters took out their cellphones and filmed the scene.
I had to raise my arm high to shoot the video and weave in and out of the crowd before turning a corner and laughing in amazement. Temperatures had dropped below freezing and high-end shopping stores dotted the streets, but the highlight was their brothers. A crowd of several hundred people lined up around two streets for an autograph session with the Toronto Maple Leafs winger.
Nylander has consistently testified that his favorite thing about coming to Stockholm is seeing his family.but saturday afternoonAfter a brief visit with some of his family after practice, fans may attest that their favorite experience at the NHL’s Global Series was getting a glimpse of the affable, laid-back brothers. .
Autograph sessions are commonplace for athletes like Nylander, but they’re rarely attended by this many people. And equally unusual is the constant composure and toothy grin with which Nylander met all his fans.
“Are you from Toronto?” Nylander asked one group of fans. “So you came all the way to Sweden? That’s really cool.”
Nylander could have spent an afternoon with the sisters, whom he rarely sees during the season. And it’s no wonder she’s tired of her days as the center of attention in Stockholm and her expectations.
Rather, his enthusiasm spoke volumes.
Welcome to Sweden’s William Nylander Show.
“He’s one of those players. Sometimes it’s nerve-wracking and sometimes it feels like a big responsibility,” said fellow Swede and former teammate Rasmus Sandin. “But for Willy it’s just fun. He’s just going with the flow. Going to Sweden will be one of the best experiences of his career.”
How William Nylander came to be: Born in Canada, raised everywhere, forever home in Sweden.
For Nylander, who rode a record-breaking 16-game point streak to start the season and stole the spotlight with equal parts grand demeanor and heartfelt gratitude, his week in Sweden was a true NHL star. This will be a key point in his career that will solidify his position as a champion.
His face looms larger than any other NHL player on promotional materials throughout Stockholm. The applause and cheers he received when he was introduced, touched the puck, or turned the ice over on a Leafs play. Friday night The win over the Detroit Red Wings dwarfed their compatriots.
Those were sounds reserved for the game’s biggest stars. And now perhaps it’s time to start talking about Nylander in the same tone as the NHL’s greatest player.
Frankly, those are sounds Nylander hasn’t always heard consistently during a career where he was sometimes overshadowed by his teammates.
Auston Matthews is the Leafs’ best player, perhaps the best player in franchise history. There are very few playmakers who can do what Mitch Marner can do on the ice, a fan he grew up with. John Tavares is a local boy who returns to his hometown to become a captain.
“A few years ago, (Nylander) was an addition, a side dish,” former Leafs defenseman Karl Gunnarsson said. “But that is changing.”
Through the first 16 games of the season, Nylander produced in a way that allowed highlight reel producers to leave a ton of his film on the cutting room floor. For a league that uses clips of amazing offensive plays as currency on social media, Nylander provided a wealth of value to the NHL this season.
“He put himself in the conversation with the best players in the game,” Tavares said.
Nylander’s time off the ice in Sweden also contributes to his star status. Throughout the week, the demands on Nylander’s time were constant.
In a joint response with Marner, Marner was faced with one unique question, joked about it, and then ran away from the cameras and returned to his teammates. Nylander was what the media and fans wanted to see.
It was no different at the premiere of the Swedish documentary “BÖRJE,” about Borje Salming, where Nylander, like many former NHL stars including Hall of Famers Mats Sundin and Nicklas Lidström, was in high demand on the red carpet. was.
For 30 minutes after the Leafs’ practice on Saturday, Nylander made time for the dozens of young fans sitting in the stands at Hovet Arena, despite facing more than an hour of signs on the other side of town. I split it. He took selfies of himself and answered every request this week as well.
The problem is, the William Nylander in Stockholm is the same William Nylander who shows up every day in Toronto.
“(Nylander) loves (the spotlight). He’s a little quiet, but he takes it very coolly and that’s just the way he is,” Leafs defenseman John Klingberg said. Ta.
Klingberg is right. Nylander’s relaxed demeanor and ability to never falter under the pressure of being a Leaf are part of the reason Tavares said Nylander was “built to play in Toronto.”
Nylander continued to display a bona fide celebrity presence that set him apart from most NHL players. Like it or not, what NHL players wear has become an unforgettable part of the star’s brand.Nylander became one of them. of The most marketable NHL player in that regard. It’s become common for NHL teams to use their social media accounts to showcase what their players are wearing in games. It’s a small window into each player’s personality.
“That’s what sells the game,” Klingberg said. “A lot of basketball players and football players spotlight their personalities and their clothes, and I think that’s something that carries over into the hockey world.”
And Nylander swings the door wide open with an outfit that never strays from his effortlessly cool demeanor.
It’s easy to see how Nylander found inspiration to break out of the mold in Stockholm, a city where sophisticated-looking clothing can become part of the city’s flag.
“(Nylander) has a street style,” Klingberg said. “He’s a representative of both positions. Sometimes he comes in one day and looks like a high-class Stockholm guy, and sometimes he looks like a street guy.”
Anecdotally, it’s fair to say that the NHL is a more conservative league than the NBA, due in part to the tight-lipped, straight-laced nature of hockey players.
But with high-end production leading the way, it’s only a matter of time before high-end, cutting-edge brands looking for NHL players to sponsor see Nylander as an ideal way to enter new markets. I can feel it. And if you’re a young player who excels in the game but doesn’t want to subscribe to the aforementioned rigid culture, Nylander’s personality may provide a blueprint for success.
When it comes to undisputed success, perhaps the only thing Nylander is missing is an elusive long postseason run with the Maple Leafs.
“(Sweden) sees him as a very talented player. Everyone knows about William,” said former Leaf and Frolunda GM Fredrik Sjöström. “I think he probably hasn’t reached the status of Peter Forsberg or Mats Sandin yet. But things might change if he wins in Toronto.”
And perhaps that torch may be passed from Sundin to Nylander as the next great Swedish Leaf. He is still standing on the cliff.
“We all know William is a great hockey player, and it’s great to see him get off to such a strong start this season,” Sandin said. told reporters At the premiere of “BÖRJE”. “And I know Toronto is a very good team, so hopefully he can continue like that and hopefully give Toronto a big chance this spring.”
It remains to be seen whether Nylander will re-sign with Toronto for the final year of his contract. But interest in him has reached new heights both on and off the ice.
Because Nylander’s week in Sweden made it clear that he’s more than just the star that many fans want to remain in Toronto. He has become a player needed in the NHL both in North America and overseas.
“When you’re a kid, it’s hard to watch the NHL (in Sweden) because of the time difference,” Klingberg said. “But all the kids play video games, and (Nylander) is the poster boy. It’s going to be great for people to see him up close.”
(Top photo: Mark Blinch / NHLI, via Getty Images)