Don Cherry is likely happy that Toronto Maple Leafs prospect William Nylander is being recalled to the Toronto Marlies and not the big club.
“Now that’s just what they need,” a sarcastic Cherry told Brady & Walker Monday morning. “They got [new coach Peter] Horachek going, this big deal. He needs defence, defence, defence. And to bring a small Swede over, I’m sure he’s really excited.”
The 18-year-old Nylander, Sportsnet’s Damien Cox confirmed, has been recalled from Modo of the Swedish Hockey League, but will report to Toronto’s AHL affiliate.
Cherry compared Nylander to another Leafs first-round pick, Nazem Kadri, a player whom — unlike Nylander — Cherry believes should have seen more NHL time as a teenager.
A few months after being selected seventh overall by Toronto in 2009, Kadri scored five points in six pre-season games with the Maple Leafs, but was returned to the OHL’s London Knights before the NHL season opened. He lit it up for the Knights that year, scoring 93 points in 56 games with a plus-26 rating.
“Kadri was a better player when he was 18. I remember they sent him down, I went bananas. He was leading the team defensively in plus/minus; they said he wasn’t good defensively. He was leading the team in scoring, and they sent him down at 18. I couldn’t believe it,” Cherry said.
“He’s a lot different than Nylander. What? Are you kidding? He’s a tough little nut.”
Playing centre for Modo, Nylander scored 20 points in 21 games as a pro this season. He is plus-3 on a last-place team with a minus-30 goal differential.
A big proponent of drafting homegrown talent, Cherry criticized the Leafs for passing on six-foot-three Canadian winger Nick Ritchie at the 2014 draft to take the five-foot-11 Nylander.
“I’m not saying this Nylander can’t score, but let’s go over him: He’s small, he doesn’t get involved, he can score, a pretty good skater,” Cherry said. “Who knows? Maybe he’ll turn into a 40-goal scorer, but I have my doubts.”