Alex Nylander has been a very disappointing prospect, to say the least since he was drafted by the Sabres with the eighth overall selection in the 2016 draft. When Tim Murray stepped up to the podium the night of the 2016 draft in Buffalo, fans expected that they would go defense with their pick. At the time, Buffalo was in dire need of a solid defense prospect and they decided to pick the best player on their list in Alex Nylander from the Mississauga Steelheads. Nylander was a great prospect going into the draft. If my memory serves me correct, I think I had him going to the Calgary Flames with the sixth overall pick. Of course, I along with many fans would have liked to see Buffalo draft a stud defenseman like Mikhail Sergachev or Charlie McAvoy or even to a lesser extent, Jakob Chychrun. But I was still very happy with the selection of Alex Nylander. The idea that he could make the jump immediately to the AHL and avoid that ridiculous rule where a player drafted out of the CHL can’t play in the AHL until their 20 year old season just seemed like an added bonus to selecting Nylander. If you would have told me in the summer of 2016 that in two years Alex Nylander hasn’t solidified a full time NHL roster spot and that he would be a question mark to even play in year three, I’d call you crazy. But the unfortunate part is that it’s true.
What people seem to forget about sometimes is the fact that Alex Nylander is only 20 years old. A lot of Sabres fans have already written off Nylander as a bust and that’s just ridiculous. He’s 20 years old, 20! Just to put it into perspective, if he wasn’t Swedish and was Canadian for example, he would’ve played the last two seasons in the OHL and probably would have put up incredible numbers. Yes, the numbers in Rochester have been disappointing for sure and along with his point production, his play on the ice in general, has been underwhelming. I understand the concern about Nylander’s development but I think it’s just way too early to give up on him.
I’m still trying to wrap my mind around where the Sabres went wrong in the two years that they have had Nylander in the organization and I think one problem here was that he simply wasn’t ready to play in the AHL at the age of 18. Playing another year in Mississauga probably would have been better for his development when you look back on it. Going off of that, maybe if he went back to Sweden to play in either the SHL or the Allsvenskan, his development could have possibly gone better. Vancouver’s first rounder in 2016, Olli Juolevi, took a similar path by deciding to play for TPS in the Finnish Liiga this season after playing a couple seasons with the London Knights of the OHL. But we can’t dwell on the past and today I’m going to tell you why we all need to stop sleeping on Alex Nylander.
Alex Nylander is probably the biggest wildcard for Buffalo in 2018-2019. Going into the 17-18 season, Nylander put a focus on getting stronger and there was a noticeable change in his physique at the start of the season in comparison to when he was drafted. The expectation going into training camp was that Nylander would at least compete for a roster spot. But unfortunately, Nylander suffered a groin injury at the prospect tournament that sidelined him for months. It seems like fans completely forgot about the injury when they took their criticism to Nylander. You have to imagine that Nylander wasn’t 100% when he returned to the Rochester lineup. And groin injuries are extremely difficult to come back from. Just ask Hudson Fasching, he also had a bad groin injury in the 16-17 season and now it looks like he hasn’t been the same since. But when Nylander returned, he had to start out in the bottom six and earn his way up the lineup. And it took a very long time for him to get his game back to what we expect from him. For the last month or so in Rochester, Nylander’s production really increased. Now I wouldn’t say that 27 points in 51 games are good by any means coming from a former eighth overall pick but from a glass half full perspective, most of those points came near the end of the season when his game started to pick up. He even got a three game look up in Buffalo and I didn’t think he looked out of place at all. He even notched his first career NHL goal. But when he went back to Rochester, by all accounts he played very poorly at the end of the regular season and for the playoffs so there’s that.
Despite his mediocre play over the last two seasons, Alex Nylander is still a very talented player and I envision him as a top six forward in Buffalo going forward but it looks like we’re just going to have to wait a little longer than we originally thought. He has been working a lot on his play without the puck and he also needs to play with more passion and intensity but I still believe he has what it takes to be a very good player in this league. If Nylander puts the work in over the summer to get even more stronger as well if he shows up to camp healthy, I think he can compete for a roster spot. He’s very motivated to make the team and there is going to be a lot of internal competition with the other players from Rochster for the last few roster spots. The likes of Justin Bailey, C.J. Smith, Nick Baptiste, and Hudson Fasching will all be competing hard with Nylander to make the team and I won’t be surprised if Nylander rises above them.
I know that there are players in the 2016 draft class that have already been performing very well in the NHL and some of those players were drafted after Nylander. But that’s not Alex’s fault. You can blame the old regeime all you want and that’s fine but it’s still way too early to give up on the kid. A few months ago, Craig Button compared Nylander’s situation to Markus Naslund when he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Naslund wasn’t developing as fast as the Penguins wanted him to and he was shipped off to the Vancouver Canucks and then developed into a great player. I hate preaching patience to Buffalo fans but it might take more time for Nylander to turn into what we all want him to become. There are such things as late bloomers, you’re just going to have to be patient. The talent is there with Nylander, but he just needs to work in strength, play away from the puck, and compete level. If he can figure it out Buffalo will have a good one in Nylander.
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