Feature Story: Alex Nylander Development Status

by jtessler on July 13, 2019

 

The other day, the Buffalo Sabres and the Chicago Blackhawks completed a trade that sent Alex Nylander to Chicago in exchange for Henri Jokiharju.

 

Nylander is the brother of Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander and the son of former NHLer Michael Nylander. He was selected 8th overall in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft and there were high expectations from the get-go. After fans saw how William was progressing, many hockey fans figured that Alex was a carbon copy of his older brother. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly the case.

 

In the case of William, his skating and edge-work were quite strong. In addition, his puck-handling was elite and he was able to swing around defenders without difficulty. For Alex, he wasn’t as fortunate. His skating, speed, and puck-handling were a bit weaker and it took more time in the AHL for Alex to develop those skills. At the moment, his skating is much better and Sabres’ fans saw that in his 12 game stint in Buffalo last season. 

 

Nylander’s offensive production isn’t consistent. In his 2015-16 campaign, he played with the Mississauga Steelheads in the Ontario Hockey League. He led the Steelheads in both goals (28) and assists (47). He was far more dominant than his teammates including Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian, and Owen Tippett. After his strong season in the OHL, he came to the AHL for the following season. Rather quickly, fans noticed that his offensive production from the OHL wasn’t translating well to the AHL. Since that point, he had a difficult time regaining his offensive talent. This past season, he showed promise as he tallied 31 points in 49 games with the Rochester Americans. His success led to a call-up, but he then failed to show consistency at the NHL level. 

 

If we look at Nylander’s track record, he could turn it around in another full season or two at the NHL level. There is also a chance that he could bust and fail to be the winger that he was projected to be when drafted. With quite a bit of uncertainty, the Buffalo Sabres felt that it made sense to trade him to the Blackhawks. Plus, Sabres general manager Jason Botterill ended up adding another right-handed defenseman, after acquiring Brandon Montour at the trade deadline last season and adding Colin Miller in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights a week or so prior to the Nylander trade. With the trade completed, the Sabres now have quite a bit of depth on the right side and could move defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen to potentially upgrade their forward group.

 

For the Chicago Blackhawks, general manager Stan Bowman received a lot of criticism from fans and analysts for completing this trade. While trading for an inconsistent forward doesn’t appear to make much sense, he has made similar moves in the past and those have panned out. In fact, last season, the Blackhawks acquired Dylan Strome in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes. Strome wasn’t fitting well in the Coyotes’ system. He was putting up outstanding numbers in the AHL with the Tuscon Roadrunners, but for whatever reason, he was failing to be productive in the NHL level for the Coyotes. After the trade, Strome began to blossom in Chicago and silenced his critics. It appears that Bowman was looking to make a similar acquisition and is banking on Nylander turning around similar to Strome.