Gary Nylund appeared to be the complete package on defence when he joined the NHL in 1982. The 6'4" hulk was a punishing hitter whose mobility and passing ability far exceeded most big men in the game. A knee injury suffered as a rookie curtailed his development and he ended up being a solid role player in eleven NHL seasons rather than a star.
The native of Surrey, British Columbia played in the BCJHL with the Delta Islanders before joining the WHL's Portland Winter Hawks. In 1981-82, he registered 59 assists, was placed on the league's first all-star team, and helped Portland reach the Memorial Cup tournament. Although the Kitchener Rangers won the Cup, Nylund was placed on the tournament all-star team. That year he was a key figure when Canada won its first-ever-gold medal at the World Junior Championships in 1982. The talented prospect was chosen 3rd overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Entry Draft after only Gord Kluzak and Brian Bellows.
Nylund was off to a fine start as a rookie in the 1982-83 pre-season but twisted his knee when he checked Quebec's Wilf Paiement and was able to play only a few games in mid-season. After re-injuring his knee, Nylund remained on the sidelines for the rest of the year and did not return until the 1983-84 schedule was over 30 games old. The youngster showed glimpses of returning to form but he never rose to the top three on the fairly weak Toronto defence. Nylund played 79 games in 1985-86 and doled out several punishing bodychecks when the Maple Leafs came within one game of the semi-finals.
In the off-season, Nylund signed with the Chicago Black Hawks as a restricted free agent and helped solidify their blueline for nearly three years. He scored a career-high 27 points in 1986-87 and fit in well on the deeper Hawks defense corps. In November 1988 he was traded to the New York Islanders and was a solid performer there until he retired early in the 1992-93 season.