Now that the initial shock of the Henri Jokiharju for Alexander Nylander trade has worn off, it’s time to deal with what’s at hand. Jokiharju is gone and Nylander is here, so let’s focus on the young winger the Blackhawks acquired.
The Situation in Buffalo
Only Nylander himself and those within the Sabres organization know exactly what’s being referred to in this quote. Here are the facts: he played a total of 19 NHL games over three seasons in Buffalo with elongated stints at AHL Rochester each season. He made it clear that he had envisioned more from himself early on in his career. Whether Nylander felt the Sabres were holding him back or there was a possible rift between him and the development staff is, like he said, in the past. The main point is that Alexander Nylander is ready for a change of scenery and he’s excited that his destination is Chicago.
A Fresh Start
The cliches “change of scenery” and “fresh start” are often thrown around in all sports. It doesn’t always translate into success for a player just because they’re with a new team, but it has worked out in the Blackhawks favor recently.
Of course, that success story is Dylan Strome, who was acquired from the Arizona Coyotes. Like Nylander (8th overall – 2016), Strome (3rd overall – 2015) was a former top-10 draft pick. Both went to franchises that have been searching for answers over the greater part of the last decade. High-slot draft picks like these two are always expected to be part of the solution for teams trying to reemerge, but not everyone can step onto the scene and tear it up. The immense pressure and mounting expectations can often lead to these players pressing too hard, which then produces inverse results.
Dylan Strome racked up just 16 points in 48 games over parts of three seasons with the Coyotes before being traded to the Hawks. He never found a true fit in the Arizona lineup and ended up averaging 13:18 TOI during his time there. Nylander played even less in Buffalo, accumulating six points while averaging just 12:20 TOI in his extremely small sample size of 19 games played at the professional level.
After coming over to the Blackhawks, Strome found his groove and posted 51 points while averaging 17:04 TOI over 58 games to round out the 2018-19 season. Certainly, there are numerous factors that played into Strome’s turnaround besides ice time. However, you simply can’t show what you’re capable of while sitting on the bench. If Nylander gets ample playing time, we’ll finally be able to see what his game is all about at the highest level.
Like Strome in Arizona, Nylander wasn’t surrounded by a cast of elite forwards in Buffalo. Strome excelled after stepping into a forward group that already had established scorers in Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, and Jonathan Toews. Strome was extremely familiar with DeBrincat because of the time they spent together while tearing up the OHL, and that chemistry both on and off the ice benefitted him. There won’t be a “best friends reunited” feel-good story surrounding Nylander in Chicago, but he will certainly have the opportunity to learn from some of the best forwards in the game and develop on-ice chemistry with them.
Alexander Nylander will join Alex DeBrincat, Andrew Shaw, and Ryan Carpenter as the only right-handed shooters of the Blackhawks forward group. Of those players, only DeBrincat is a true sniper. If Nylander utilizes his shooting ability from the left circle, he could become a dangerous scoring threat at the left wing position to supplement DeBrincat. As you can see in his OHL highlights below, the kid can shoot.
Now let’s see if that can translate over to the highest level.
Hockey Players are People, Too
Ah yes, the human element. It’s easy to forget about this part when you’re heavily invested in the success of your favorite team and crunching numbers on how they can improve on the ice. We know Nylander dealt with injuries at the beginning of the 2017-18 campaign and toward the end of this most recent season, which could have affected his game. At the end of the day, we need to take a step back and acknowledge that we don’t know exactly what else Alexander Nylander may have been going through that could have affected his on-ice performance. As Nylander himself said, what happened in Buffalo and Rochester is in the past. Hopefully the 21-year-old winger can benefit from this change of scenery.
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