Blackhawks Need to Make a Decision About Nylander

The Chicago Blackhawks need a spark. Although they have been playing better lately, their winning streaks are minimal. Recently, their wins and losses have come in a pattern of win, loss, win, loss. In this league, that’s not going to cut it if you want to be competitive. It might seem too late for the Blackhawks to be competitive, considering they’re 10 points out of a Western Conference wild card spot. But, it’s never too late for improvement. Something that has been stressed a lot this season by spectators is the Blackhawks’ lack of offense. An answer could be sitting in their backyard, and it’s time for the team to make a decision about this player’s future: Alex Nylander.

Nylander’s Blackhawks’ Tenure

Nylander’s tenure with the Blackhawks has been very up and down. It seems like the highs are high, and the lows are lows when it comes to how his play has transpired on the ice. He is a former first-round pick selected by the Buffalo Sabres eighth overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. His time with the Sabres had been plagued by inconsistency in his play as well as injury. He was then traded to the Blackhawks for another former, first-round pick, Henri Jokiharju, in July 2019. He became a regular in the Blackhawks’ lineup during the 2019-20 season, where he saw top-six minutes, bottom-six minutes, and everything in between.

Alex Nylander Chicago Blackhawks
Alex Nylander, Chicago Blackhawks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

During the 2019-20 season, Nylander had 10 goals, 16 assists, and 26 points in 65 games. He was with the Blackhawks in the playoff bubble in Edmonton and recorded zero points in eight games. He is a forward noted for his speed and skill in goal production. Unfortunately, fans have only gotten flashes of that skill set as his offensive production came in waves. He experienced another setback in Edmonton when the Blackhawks faced the Vegas Golden Nights in Round 1 of the playoffs. He tore his meniscus and had to miss the entire 2020-21 season. The Hawks decided to re-sign him to a one-year, $847,125 contract in August, and now he is back on the ice as the team assigned him to their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Rockford Icehogs, to start the season.

Related: 2016 NHL Draft: Is Alex Nylander Overrated?

Case for Trading Nylander

When it comes to Nylander, the first thought that may come to fans’ minds is to trade him. He was already not on solid ground, and the fact that he had to miss the entirety of last season may have made him an afterthought. The Blackhawks had to move on without him, and this season, it seems like he is on the outside looking in. In the bottom-six, players like Jujhar Khaira, Philipp Kurashev, MacKenzie Entwistle, Reese Johnson, and Henrik Borgstrom have been staples in former head coach Jeremy Colliton and current head coach Derek King’s lineup. The Blackhawks offense has been struggling mightily, averaging 2.30 goals per game, and their 42 goals for is second-worst in the league. Even with those struggles, Nylander still hasn’t found his way back up to the NHL.

Nylander is currently the second-leading goal-scorer on the Icehogs with eight goals. Yet, the team has recalled players like Brett Connolly, Mike Hardman, and Josiah Slavin ahead of him. Because he hasn’t been recalled up to this point, it makes you wonder if Nylander is in Chicago’s plans at all. It would make sense to find him a new home if that is the case. However, his trade value assumingly isn’t high at the moment. Therefore, most the Blackhawks could likely get for him is a late-round draft pick, such as a fifth-round pick. It’s up to the Blackhawks whether they think it’s worth it to trade him at that price.

Case for Calling Up Nylander

I think the case for calling Nylander up is clear. The team needs goal scoring, and the way things are looking, it doesn’t seem like they will see much improvement unless they shake something up.

Some criticism about him throughout his career stems from the fact that he has been able to produce greatly at the AHL level, but that production has yet to translate to the NHL. There’s a valid concern that his AHL production won’t translate to the Blackhawks, but there is an aspect to him that I think is different this time: confidence. Scott Powers, the Blackhawks’ writer for The Athletic, shared this update after he spoke with Nylander in November:

It has been said that a confident player is a dangerous player, so why not see what he has? The bottom-six scoring is putrid. Khaira, Entwistle, Johnson, Borgstrom, Kurashev, and Ryan Carpenter have nine goals combined. Slavin had zero goals and one point in nine games, and Hardman had two points in 19 games when they were recalled from Rockford. At this point, I don’t think the offense can get much worse.

It would be foolish to expect Nylander to come in and produce at a pace like Alex DeBrincat. He won’t be a superstar, but he is better than nothing. The Blackhawks need to see what they have because the roster that they have now isn’t getting it done consistently. He has eight goals this season, which is the same amount of goals that Brandon Hagel has. Hagel is the second-best goal scorer on the Hawks. They’re in two different leagues, but I think that has to count for something.

The main aspect is that production has found Nylander this season, and that is what you want to see out of any forward in Chicago’s organization.

Related: Nylander’s Strong Preseason Gives Blackhawks High Hopes

Blackhawks’ Final Verdict Will Aid Direction

There are pros and cons for trading or calling up Nylander, but I think the best option is to call him up. It’s important to note that during the 2019-20 season, he was fifth-best on the team in goal-scoring, which is no small feat. He missed an entire season, and it can be argued that he lost his place. That’s no fault of his own. That’s just the way the business works with the “next man up” mentality, and I think the Blackhawks need to add that mentality to their roster decisions. There aren’t many players on the roster that you can truly say have solidified their spots in the lineup. With an 11-15-4 record, that’s a given, and it’s an uncomfortable spot to be in. With too many players with limited production, I think you have to go to the “next man up.” Nylander would be that guy, and it can’t hurt the team.

If his production fails, they can send him back down. If he rises to the occasion, it would be great for the team as a whole, or it could help his trade value if the team wants to part with him come the trade deadline on March 21.

Chicago is not helping themselves or Nylander with the Rockford holdout. They need to make a decision soon because it impacts the direction of the Blackhawks’ future on offense. If one of the leading goal-scorers with their affiliate team can’t crack a lineup that has a depleted offense, then it’s questionable where they go from there. Trading him might not garner much, but that route impacts their draft and future as well. They don’t have many options, but at least they have something available that could make some noise.

Connolly was given a four-game suspension for a hit on Dallas Stars’ forward, Tanner Kero, on Dec. 18. The Blackhawks’ next game is on Dec. 23 against the Stars. This may open a spot for Nylander. He is naturally a left wing but can also play his off wing, making slotting him in the lineup even easier. He has NHL experience and now confidence to boost. Hey, why not?