After one 28-goal, 57-point campaign in the OHL, Buffalo Sabres first-round, eighth-overall draft pick Alex Nylander is reportedly set to leave the Mississauga Steelheads for the AHL’s Rochester Americans.
According to OHLInsiders, Nylander, 18, could be set to head to the Sabres’ farm club as soon as the 2016-17 campaign, which would means the young winger is making use of a loophole that would allow him to go from major junior to North America’s top minor league before the normal age of eligibility.
Typically, a player drafted out of major junior has to wait until their age 20 season to become a full-time AHLer. But Nylander is the rare case of a player who had spent the entirety of the past season on a loan. So, in that sense, he’s not a major junior player, but a European player that is eligible for the AHL whenever the Sabres see fit. And it appears they could see fit this season.
Nylander’s situation is interesting, but it isn’t the first time a loaned player made the jump to the AHL after one season in major junior. As OHLInsiders points out the Dallas Stars placed defenseman Julius Honka — their first-round, 14th-overall selection in the 2014 draft — with the AHL’s Texas Stars only months after drafting him.
Honka was 18 when he made his AHL debut and turned 19 early in the campaign, but was eligible to play in the AHL because he had been loaned to the WHL’s Swift Current Broncos. He has spent the past two full campaigns playing in the AHL, barring a five-game stint at the World Junior Championship for Finland. He’s in line to battle for a depth spot on the Dallas blueline this coming season.
As for Nylander, he was far from a lock to make the Sabres roster out of training camp, especially as a top-six role is what he’d be best suited to if he were to slot into the lineup this season. There’s somewhat of a logjam on the wing in Buffalo which means Nylander would likely have to take bottom-six minutes even if he made the team. Playing in the AHL, however, would afford him the opportunity to skate on one of the top two lines and get acclimated to the North American pro game.
But just because Nylander is eligible for the AHL means that’s the only option for the Sabres. If Buffalo figures he could develop in Europe, there’s the opportunity for Nylander to head back overseas to hone his game.
Whatever the decision, though, it appears Nylander’s time in the OHL will be cut short as the Sabres seek to find a higher level of competition to help develop their 2016 first-round pick.
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