The 2017 IIHF World Junior Championships are quickly coming to a close, with both the bronze and gold medal games taking place on January 5th. Canada and the United States will add what will hopefully be another memorable game to their classic rivalry in a fight for the tournament’s top prize. Sweden, who have lost just one game throughout the competition, will take on Russia for the bronze.
While Sweden will not be able to play in the gold medal game following a 5-2 loss to Canada in their quarter-final matchup, the team from the Scandinavian country has arguably been the breakout squad of this year’s tournament. Sweden kicked off the competition with a 6-1 win against Denmark before repeatedly dominating their opponents to earn a spot in the quarter-finals. While Sweden will not be able to walk away with the gold, they have been able to make themselves the talk of the hockey world for the past few weeks due to their excellent play.
While the Swedish team has been playing phenomenally well throughout the 2017 World Junior Championships, there has been one player that has separated himself from the rest. One player that has made himself a household name amongst hockey fans. That player happens to be a Buffalo Sabres prospect.
Alexander Nylander, who was selected by the Sabres with the eighth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, realized he had the opportunity to make a name for himself in the 2017 World Juniors, an opportunity he did not take lightly.
The brother of Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander currently has 12 points in six tournament games, leading the competition. Nylander’s 8 plus/minus rating is also tied for the tournament lead.
The Swede’s superb showing has Sabres fans wondering whether or not Nylander will trade in his Swedish blue and gold for Buffalo’s after the competition is finished. While nothing is certain as of now, the pros of calling the 18-year-old up to the NHL club seem to outweigh the cons.
Help Putting the Puck in the Net
If Nylander has proven one thing throughout the World Juniors, it’s that he has no trouble putting the puck in the net. The Canadian-born Swede has lit the lamp five times with little trouble. Nylander still has the opportunity to increase that number before the competition ends.
Scoring is nothing new for the son of former NHL center Michael Nylander. In 29 games with the AHL’s Rochester Americans this season, Nylander has 17 points (five goals, 12 assists). In one season with the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads, the Calgary-native led his team in scoring with 75 points.
Nylander has proven that he can consistently produce, something the Sabres offense has had trouble doing this season. Buffalo currently sits at 28th in the league in goals for per game, averaging just 2.19 goals per outing. For a large stretch of time earlier in the season, Buffalo was last in the league in this category and were the only team in the league averaging less than two goals per game during this time.
As of right now, there is no way of proving that Nylander will produce at the NHL level. However, all signs suggest that he could make the transition. He has produced offensively at every level he has played and could spark Buffalo’s offense. Nobody will know whether or not he can produce in the NHL unless the Sabres give him the chance.
What Could Go Wrong?
Although many Sabres’ fans would hate to admit it, the team’s 2016-17 season is pretty much over. Nearing the halfway mark, Buffalo is tied for last in the Eastern Conference with 36 points. Surprisingly, the team is just nine points out of a wild card spot. On the flip side, they are also just 11 points above last place in the NHL.
While the results haven’t been there for the team, the 2016-17 campaign hasn’t been without its highlights. Mega offseason acquisition Kyle Okposo has proven he’s worth every penny the team is paying him. The 28-year-old currently leads the team’s forwards with 25 points and is tied with Rasmus Ristolainen for the team lead.
Speaking of Ristolainen, young players such as Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Ristolainen have all had solid seasons. The Sabres’ young core have proven that they will be key players for the team in the years to come. Ryan O’Reilly is not human, as the center is already practicing after having his appendix removed on Christmas Day.
The break-out of Nylander could be added to this list should he be called up. The young forward could potentially skate on a line with Eichel or Reinhart. Despite their young age, the two players make the game easier for their line mates. Should Nylander be placed on a line with either superstar, his transition to the NHL should be rather easy.
While the playoffs are still a possibility for the Sabres, they aren’t likely. Some fans have begun to turn on the team, and promoting the young Swede could be a move that gets many fans back on board. Nylander has been the talk of the 2017 World Juniors, and his promotion to the NHL club would make the Sabres the talk of the NHL. While the move would make headlines, it could also help the Sabres’ struggling offense put more pucks in the net.
Worst case scenario? Nylander doesn’t produce at the NHL level and is quickly sent back to the Rochester Americans. Best case scenario? Nylander emerges as an offensive stud, and more eyes look to the Sabres and their young Swedish sensation. The best case scenario makes the promotion of Nylander far too tempting to pass up.