Nylander hoping to make most of opportunity with Chicago Blackhawks
Development camps are typically reserved for an organization's up-and-coming prospects.
Rarely, if ever, will you see a top-10 pick three years removed from the draft.
But that's exactly what's happening this week with the Chicago Blackhawks as recently acquired forward Alexander Nylander -- taken No. 8 overall by Buffalo in 2016 -- is taking part in this week's camp at Fifth Third Arena.
Nylander said he wants to make a good first impression and prove to the Hawks that the decision to trade Henri Jokiharju was a good one.
"It's been a couple of months since I was on the ice," Nylander said. "So I thought it was a great opportunity for me to come here (and) show what I've done in training through the summer, and I can get even better toward training camp."
The 6-foot-1, 192-pound Nylander scored 12 goals in 49 AHL games last season (5 on the power play) and had a 12-game run with the Sabres from March 12-April 2 during which he managed 2 goals and 2 assists.
He's only appeared in 19 NHL games, however, which is a far cry from others in his draft class, such as Matthew Tkachuk (sixth pick, 224 games), Clayton Keller (seventh pick, 167 games), Mikhail Sergachev (ninth pick, 158 games) and Tyler Jost (10th pick, 141 games).
Nylander showed off impressive stickhandling skills in the early portion of his session Monday. During 1-on-1 drills and a mini 3-on-3 game, though, defenders often poked the puck away with ease. He also misfired into a goalie-less net while a coach applied token pressure.
Still, it's just one day and these are just drills. The real tests will come in September during training camp when Nylander attempts to beat out Dylan Sikura, John Quenneville, Anton Wedin and possibly a wild card such as Aleksi Saarela.
"Of course," Nylander said when asked if his top priority is making the team. "I mean I was close to making Buffalo last year. Obviously making the NHL and being in the NHL all year is my goal next year."
One veteran pro scout told the Buffalo News last January that he believes Nylander is a "very skilled player with elite offensive instincts and vision. He can make the play with the puck that a lot of players can't or just don't see. … He seems to get frustrated easily, but this could be due to young age and maturity. Projects as a top-six forward in the NHL if he rounds out his game."
General manager Stan Bowman echoed those thoughts last week, so there's no doubting Nylander's talent level.
But the knocks on him have to do with compete level and consistency. It's one thing to have a few good games -- or even 5-10 -- but coaches have little patience for players who slump for weeks at a time.
Nylander comes from a big-time hockey family as his older brother, William, has racked up 55 goals in 239 games for Toronto, and his dad -- Michael Nylander -- played 239 of his 920 games with the Blackhawks from 1999-2002.
"It's amazing. He had a house here that recently just sold," Alex said. "He still loves the city and loves coming back to Chicago.
"It's only good things about this organization. It's a great group of people here and they really take good care of you."
Now we'll see if Nylander can take care of business on the ice and become the player the Sabres thought they were drafting three years ago.
By the numbersAlexander Nylander, acquired by the Blackhawks for Henri Jokiharju on July 9, has played in just 19 NHL games -- the second-fewest among those taken in the top 10 of the 2016 draft:
Player GP G A Pts.
1. Auston Matthews, Toronto 212 111 94 205
2. Patrik Laine, Winnipeg 237 110 74 184
3, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Columbus 164 47 62 109
4. Jesse Puljujarvi, Edmonton* 139 17 20 37
5. Olli Juolevi, Vancouver 0 0 0 0
6. Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary 224 71 103 174
7. Clayton Keller, Arizona 167 37 77 114
8, Alexander Nylander, Buffalo 19 3 3 6
9. Mikhail Sergachev, Montreal 158 15 57 72
10. Tyson Jost, Colorado * 141 24 25 49