With Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel given a two-game timeout by the NHL Department of Player Safety for his headshot on Colorado Avalanche forward Carl Soderberg, Alex Nylander has been recalled from the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League.
Nylander, nicknamed Snipeshow and owner of the handle @snipeshow98 on Twitter, will get his first taste of NHL action this season when the Sabres host the Dallas Stars Tuesday night.
While the circumstances for his call-up are unfortunate, Nylander has a golden opportunity to show how much he has developed his game. Unlike other call-ups this season, he’s not being patchworked or buried on the fourth line with Vladimir Sobotka and Johan Larsson. He practiced Monday on a line centered by Evan Rodrigues and Conor Sheary on the left wing.
Nylander’s Streaky Season
Nylander has been riding a recent hot streak for the Amerks, with goals in his last four games and seven points in his last six games. This season, he’s already set career-high totals in goals (12) and points (31) in 49 games. He’s also tied his career high with 19 assists and posted a plus-11 rating. It’s clearly his best season to date, as he’s contributing to the Amerks sitting in first place in their division. In a total of 165 AHL games, he has 30 goals and 56 assists.
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Amerks’ coach Chris Taylor has liked what he’s seen. “He’s starting to use his big body and his skating ability,” said Taylor. “When he does that he’s effective and he makes everybody else effective around him and he’s hard to contain.”
Nylander was in the perfect spot for that one to put the Amerks up 2-0. Primary assist to Oglevie. pic.twitter.com/ZFTuexTHJ0
— LGA585 (formerly LetsGoAmerks) (@LGA585) March 9, 2019
Nylander came out of the gates strong this season, but then went ice-cold. In early February, he suffered a lower-body injury after getting tangled up with teammates Will Borgen and Matt Tennyson but has been hot once again. The Calgary native is back on track and appears to be progressing.
Minimal NHL Time
The Maple Leafs drafted William, Alex’s older brother, eighth overall in 2014. Since then, he’s played 225 games in the NHL, scoring 53 goals and adding 99 assists for 152 points.
Alex Nylander’s progress hasn’t been nearly as smooth. After being taken by the Sabres with the eighth overall pick in 2016, the 6-foot-1, 192-pound winger has around carried heavy expectations. He’s appeared in only seven NHL games. In 2016-17, he registered one assist in four games; in 2017-18, he scored a goal in three games. Now 21 years old, fans and coaches alike are hoping to see him excel in the NHL. It’s time.
Nylander should have cracked the Sabres opening night lineup and started the season in Buffalo. He did everything right. After using the summer to add strength and muscle with the help of Sabres development coach Dennis Miller, Nylander showed up at camp bigger, stronger and with plenty of confidence. He was dominant at the Sabres’ development camp before the season started. Then in the preseason, the versatile right-shot forward led the team in scoring with a goal and five assists in three games. He did his best to prove he deserved a shot in the line-up.
What to Do With Nylander
Nylander was a pick of former general manager Tim Murray, so his place with the organization is likely built upon a foundation of jello. This stint, however long it lasts, could be GM Jason Botterill’s way of finding out if Nylander will be a part of the organization’s future or will be used as an asset in a future trade. The Sabres desperately need a legitimate top-two center as well as wingers and another top-four blueliner.
When constructing their teams, GMs can gamble on a player’s past production or gamble on a player’s potential. Right now, Nylander holds a lot of potential and value. He’s highly skilled and could become a regular NHL contributor.
Nylander hasn’t had great success at the AHL level, which doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t do well at the NHL level. During his first few years in Rochester, as an 18-year-old, he was a teenager competing with men. In his second year, he started the season with an injury and was never fully healthy. He’s since added to his frame and developed a more well-rounded game.
Consistency is Key
Bring up Nylander’s name and there’s a vocal contingent that will either immediately call him a bust or start a chain of never-ending excuses for why he hasn’t lived up to his draft hype. As the Sabres’ top pick, Nylander has little to show for his first two seasons, even if he was adjusting to the North American game.
The knock against the talented Nylander has always been his consistency and being a defensive liability. The Swede often disappears from the scoresheet and the game for stretches. Many current Sabres are guilty of the same failure–not making an impact due to lackadaisical shifts.
— LGA585 (formerly LetsGoAmerks) (@LGA585) January 5, 2019
Even as a goalscorer at heart, he’s shown some good hustle, playing a full 200-foot game in Rochester. His improvement can be seen as much on his defense as his offense.
As a shooter, Nylander doesn’t have much success playing a perimeter game. It’s only when he plays aggressively, battling along the walls and carrying the puck into the slot and dirty areas, that he finds the back of the net.
Comparing Nylander to His Draft Class
While Nylander works to find his game, many of his peers have already found theirs. Of 2016’s top-10 picks, only Nylander and Vancouver defenseman Olli Juolevi (No. 5) have yet to earn a full-time NHL roster spot.
The top three players: Auston Matthews (No. 1), Patrik Laine (No. 2) and Pierre-Luc DuBois (No. 3) are all household names and regular contributors for their teams. Jesse Puljujarvi, selected fourth, has played 139 career NHL games while struggling in Edmonton. Matthew Tkachuk (No. 6) and Clayton Keller (No. 7) are playing regular minutes for the Calgary Flames and Arizona Coyotes, respectively.
Rounding out the top-10 are Mikhail Sergachev (No. 9) and Tyson Jost (No. 10). They’re playing with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche.
A few other gems taken in the first round include Charlie McAvoy (No. 14), Jacob Chychrun (No. 16). Teammate Tage Thompson, selected 26th overall, has played 99 games with limited success.
Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”