Can Alex Nylander Contribute Next Season?

Alex Nylander was one of the stand out players during last week’s prospect development camp. He also recently signed his entry-level contract with the Sabres. The contract pretty much locks in the 2016 eighth overall pick beginning his professional hockey career in the AHL or NHL. Nylander is full of talent, but is he ready to contribute in the NHL next season?

NHL Skill

Nylander plays a very fast game, has a NHL caliber shot and is very good handling the puck. The Swede showed last week how dangerous he can be with the puck. He made flashy plays throughout camp and definitely stood out in his first development camp.

It’s pretty clear that Nylander has the skill set to step right into the NHL. If Buffalo is unable to bring in Jimmy Vesey in August, Nylander, could be an interesting option in the top six. His speed and creativity could fit in well on the wing with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. Nylander also has excellent vision and processes the game quickly. Both Eichel and Reinhart use their hockey sense to take advantage of the defenders.

The benefit of Nylander being able to jump right into either the NHL or AHL is his availability all season. He may not be ready to join the big club right out of training camp, but could be an impact player down the stretch. The Sabres are not hiding the fact that they expect to be a playoff competitor this season. The luxury of being able to add that type of player of a final push could put them over the top.

In particular Nylander could be a big factor in earning the extra shootout points. The Sabres only won two of their nine shootout opportunities last season. The club had a very difficult time scoring goals in the game deciding skills contest. Buffalo was only able to register four goals in the nine shootouts. Only nine shootout games may not seem like a lot for a player to be considered as an impact player in that scenario. However, in a tight playoff race picking up at least four of the seven points left on the table could be the difference next season. The slick handed Nylander showed he has a knack for converting in shootout attempts over the past week.

The Pro Game

Although Nylander possess the NHL level skill, he may need time to get acclimated to the NHL game. The professional pace, even at the minor league level, is a lot quicker than junior hockey. The Sabres are in no rush to get 18-year-old into the NHL.

U.S. World Championship Roster
(Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)

Buffalo also needs to consider if it’s smart to expose Nylander to the NHL at his current size. He’s not a small player. He measures up at 6’1, but his 180 pound frame at 18 could be concerning. Nylander has above average elusiveness with the puck and his vision allows him to stay out of danger. Fellow 2016 draft pick, Cliff Pu, discussed how Nylander was one of the harder players in juniors to get the puck from because of his stick handling, speed and vision.

The wise move would be to allow him to get used to the speed of the play in Rochester. It’ll also allow Nylander to begin to build chemistry with other young players in the system. Prospects like Hudson Fasching, Nick Baptiste and Eric Cornel will also be in Rochester next season developing as the next wave of Sabres youth. Nylander will be able to play top line minutes in the American Hockey League and be an important part of Tim Murray’s goal to rebuild the farm team.

Even if Nylander doesn’t make the team out of training camp, which is the likely scenario at this point. He can still be an impactful player filling in for injuries or a late season call up. The way the roster is currently constructed the Sabres are in no need to rush the development of Nylander. The coaching staff will head into camp with an open mind on the first round pick. It’ll be interesting to see if Nylander can play well enough to make the decision tough on coaches.