Looking to make the leap: Alex Nylander

Getty
2 Comments

This post is part of Sabres Day on PHT…

It’s easy to see why Alex Nylander is eager for the season to get underway.

Nylander got a taste of the NHL by appearing in four games for Buffalo at the end of last year. Now, he wants more. That desire for extended action is likely fueled, in part, by a sibling rivalry — Alex’s older brother, William, posted a terrific rookie campaign in Toronto, scoring 22 goals and 61 points while finishing sixth in Calder voting.

The similarities between the two are striking,. Both were taken eighth overall in their respective draft years. Both appeared in at least 60 AHL contests before making their big league debuts.

And though William’s first “taste” of the NHL was bigger — 22 games, as opposed to Alex’s four — the blueprint was largely the same. Which is why Alex is gunning for a spot on Buffalo’s opening night roster this fall.

“[I’ve] learned new things to get better, and also to be more like a professional,” Nylander said at the Sabres’ prospect development camp, per the News. “I will definitely take that into September. I was working hard. Of course things I think I’ve done in the summer have helped me on the ice, and I’ve just got to keep doing what I’ve been doing.”

Nylander had a whirlwind ’16-17 campaign. There were highs — making his Sabres debut, finishing as the co-leading scorer at the World Juniors — but there were lows, too. The 19-year-old struggled at the AHL level, finishing with just 10 goals in 65 games for Rochester. Most chalked that up to a lack of strength and size (Nylander was ambitiously listed at 179 pounds last season), the same concerns some had with William prior to his breakout rookie campaign.

To be fair, William never struggled to score in the American League. He put up 77 points in 75 games with the Marlies.

As for Alex, his future will be decided by how he does in training camp and the exhibition season, but also how the battle for minutes at left wing shakes out. It’s one of the thinnest positions on Buffalo’s roster. Evander Kane is the unquestioned first-liner, and GM Jason Botterill is hopeful Edmonton castoff Benoit Pouliot can overachieve, and take the second-line spot.

After that? Nylander’s battling the likes of Matt Moulson, Nicolas Deslauriers and Justin Bailey. New head coach Phil Housley could also slide a center over to fill the void.

It’s important to remember, though, that Nylander could very well be AHL-bound. New GM Jason Botterill has stated the organization will take a more measured approach to prospect development than in years past, and is a big proponent of the American League. He had a ton of success grooming prospects in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton while with the Penguins organization.

And at the end of the day, Nylander is still pretty much that — a prospect. A good one, sure, but one that also might need more seasoning.