It appears the Buffalo Sabres have cracked the code on building a solid NHL roster. The answer was hidden in the jersey colours, in the combination of blue and yellow, which unifies the Sabres with Sweden. Since the Sabres invested both their first and second draft picks in Swedish prospects, the blue and yellow players might come to shine bright in Buffalo.
The three Swedes picked by Buffalo were Alexander Nylander, Rasmus Asplund and Philip Nyberg. At this stage of their careers, you can only speculate and try to predict their forthcoming NHL journey. And the Buffalo Sabres have obviously seen something desirable in each one of them. But what?
In order to try to answer that, based on my experience following the Swedish domestic leagues from up close and the most promising exports from afar, here is a brief report on the three Sabres prospects.
The overall questions: Who are they as hockey players? How good will they be?
Round 1, pick no. 8
My, oh my, this was a jackpot pick for the Buffalo Sabres. If you have yet to have the pleasure of seeing Alexander Nylander on the ice, you are in for a giggling sensation. To observe and enjoy players like Nylander for the first time is like falling in love with the game of hockey all over again. Also, the thing about Nylander, which makes him even more unique, is that he produces points while exciting the fans.
Nylander’s puck technique, motion skills, as well as his playmaking and scoring abilities sell tickets and defeat opponents. Even though it is uncertain whether he will play in the NHL next season or back home in the top league of Sweden (we must not forget that he is only 18 years old), someday he will get his turn and it will have been worth the wait. He will come to dominate in many games while maintaining a high level, even in the NHL, I am sure.
As many already have pointed out, the Nylander draft pick also intensifies the rivalry with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Alexander’s brother William Nylander will be one of the most prominent figures in the Leafs’ ongoing rebuild. Although both of them show great promise and potential already, it will be exciting to see which Nylander brother will be the more successful. My bet today would be on Alexander.
"He’s the difference between winning and losing. He’s an amazing player." – Rasmus Asplund on Alexander Nylander.
— John Vogl (@BuffaloVogl) June 25, 2016
Round 2, pick no. 33
This was a pleasant surprise for the Sabres. More or less everyone believed that Rasmus Asplund would be drafted somewhere late in the first round. Even the Swedish scout Anders Forsberg for the Buffalo Sabres, who pledged he had been interested in Asplund for a long time, was taken by surprise: “I didn’t count on him (Asplund) at all, so he was a player we almost got as a bonus,” Forsberg said to the Swedish site Hockeysverige.se. “We like both his playing style and the way he competes.”
The fact that the Sabres traded up from the 8th pick of the second round to the one that got them Asplund proves his worth. They simply refused to take the risk to miss out on Asplund.
When looking at the 18-year-old center’s record, including two years in the Swedish Hockey League collecting 15 points (6+9) in 81 games, who can blame the Sabres for going through with that trade? And when looking at the potential that Asplund carries, would any other action have been acceptable?
Acquiring Asplund in the second round was a steal, and the result of it will show within the next-coming years. With this draft pick, Buffalo may have laid their hands on a second or third line center that works hard at both ends of the ice; on both the powerplay and penalty kill. In addition to that, he formed a successful line with Nylander at the Junior World Championships earlier this year. In other words: Congratulations to Buffalo, Alex and Rasmus.
Round 5, pick no. 129
This was also a bit of a surprise, not the least here in Sweden. The surprise, however, was not that Philip Nyberg was drafted later than expected, as was the case with Asplund, but that he was drafted at all. With that said, Nyberg is a prospect that deserves attention after his last season with the Linköping HC J20 team. A year ago, few people, even in and around Linköping, knew his name. But since then he has flourished as a late bloomer, to become one of the most exciting players in the club’s organization. And nothing suggests that his rapid development will lose pace now.
Working for the local newspaper in Linköping, I have had the chance to speak with Nyberg a few times during the last couple of weeks leading up to the NHL draft. Afterwards, he admitted being surprised when his name was called. It is safe to say, however, that he is an ambitious hockey talent, and next season he will play for the University of Wisconsin in the NCAA.
When recently asked by the same newspaper who his idol is, Nyberg answered: “John Klingberg. I think I am the same playing type as him.”
So, that is what you can expect in Buffalo – an offensively brave and modern D-man – if Nyberg is to find his way to the NHL in the future. In my opinion, his chances are good. At least, he should not be neglected just because he was drafted with the 129th pick overall. In 2007, the Dallas Stars were assigned the 129th pick of the fifth round. They chose Jamie Benn.