Alexander Nylander aims high. He’s just 18, and he’s playing pro hockey in North America for the first time, but he thinks he’s NHL-ready right now.
“It’s a goal to be up there,” said Nylander, drafted eighth overall by the Buffalo Sabres last June. “When you play here, you hope you get the call-up, so of course it’s my goal for this year to get up. First of all, I have to play really good down here in the AHL, and then we’ll see from there what (the Sabres) think.”
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound forward had four goals and 16 points through 26 games with the Rochester Americans, Buffalo’s farm club. Nylander is just a year removed from his lone major junior season with the Mississauga Steelheads, when he scored a team-leading 28 goals and 75 points in 57 games, winning the OHL and CHL rookie of the year awards.
Alex is the son of former NHLer Michael Nylander and the younger brother of Maple Leafs rookie William Nylander. Alex credits last season’s jump from playing professionally in Sweden to the smaller rinks of the OHL for helping him with the transition to the AHL game. “There wasn’t too much I wasn’t aware of, because I had my brother going through it,” Nylander said. “The players are a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger, with a little bit faster pace.”
Projected to be a top-six forward at the NHL level, Nylander has excellent hands and vision. He models his game after that of Chicago Blackhawks forwards Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin. During an interview for THN’s Draft Preview, one scout called Nylander “maybe as pure a talent as anyone in this draft.”
Despite Nylander’s lofty goals for his first season in the Buffalo organization, some areas of his game need improvement. According to Rochester coach Dan Lambert, the biggest thing is consistency for the youngster. “There are nights where Alex looks real good and looks confident, and there are other nights when it’s a learning process,” Lambert said. “Sometimes it’s not quite where it needs to be as far as his skating, as far as his compete. When you look at his numbers, lately he’s had a lot of scoring chances, and those are really positive.”
Nylander’s 2016-17 season will likely include a second opportunity to participate at the World Junior Championship. Last year he led the Swedes with four goals and nine points. The Tre Kronor, however, fell 2-1 to Finland in the semifinal and lost 8-3 to the Americans in the bronze medal game. “I think my brother would’ve helped the team a lot if he was playing,” said Alex, referring to the concussion that knocked William out of last year’s tournament after one game. “We probably needed him. We probably would’ve won gold with him, but you try to keep playing on without our best player. We probably would’ve needed him in the Finland game.
“It was sort of annoying things turned out that way, but this year hopefully we beat Finland in the semis if we play them – and win gold.”