Analyzing Alex Nylander’s Tumultuous Freshman Season as a Blackhawk

Alex Nylander #92, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Alex Nylander #92, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

During the summer, the Blackhawks traded Henri Jokiharju for Alex Nylander. So, how has this helped Chicago?

We will start by saying, the Alex Nylander for Henri Jokiharju trade is a victory for the Buffalo Sabres, however, in Nylander’s first season in Chicago there have been flashes of a player who could still be productive at the NHL level.

When you look at the numbers for both players, it tells an interesting story. As a player, Jokiharju as his steady defensive play is, he is the kind of player that could have benefited from the Blackhawks in the defensive woes.

While Jokiharju has not lit it up offensively in Buffalo, he has excelled in a very difficult forward matchup. He has been able to stay right in the middle of the pack on the Sabres’ defense. Nylander, on the other hand, has performed for an advanced metric standpoint, similarly to the bulk of the Blackhawks forwards. Nylander has struggled to find a consistent place in the lineup.

One great resource to look at advanced statistics is Sean Tierney’s, Charting Hockey. This is where you can look at goal differential, production rates, player shot rates and much more. The linked chart is an interesting one. It highlights the production rates of players while using points per 60 minutes when combining their ice time. Here’s how we can breakdown if the player is good, underused, overused or bad.

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Interestingly enough Nylander falls just in the underused category. Players like Dominik Kubalik, Drake Caggiula, and Brandon Saad fall under there too. The reason for his “underused” status could be much to do with his defensive deficiencies. Honestly, this could be placed on Jeremy Colliton’s inability to build a consistent lineup.

Many have criticized Nylander, rightfully so. Those that have criticized believe he was not worth the value of a top defensive prospect in Jokiharju. When you look at his production in his first full season in the NHL, Nylander has put up some decent production with 26 points in 65 games.

That’s right Nylander is eighth in scoring for the Blackhawks. Now, the team has significantly underperformed from an offensive perspective. I think for someone who had not played a full season in the NHL, that is a positive sign. It’s impossible to remove the stigma that comes with the trade he was involved in.

One thing that Jimmy Lynch touched on when it comes to Nylander is that his fit with Patrick Kane seemed like an odd one. Nylander’s struggle might have dampened Kane’s offensive game. However, since the Florida game, Nylander’s lowest time on ice all season, he has been a solid contributor to the offense with five points over his last five games.

The chemistry between Nylander and Kane has been noticeable with Nylander’s shift totals and time on ice finding a more consistent level. Having Kane and Nylander on the ice won’t do much for the team defensively, they have been consistent on creating scoring chances.

I have been a Nylander apologist for most of the season. I have taken the stance that we need to give Nylander the opportunities to play with skilled players and let him play through his struggles.

I don’t like the trade for Nylander still but it is still difficult to know where his ceiling is. If he can create that kind of chemistry with a top player like Kane, we could see a better return than what we have been expecting.

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Patience is never a strong suit for a fanbase that is starved for playoff action. The Blackhawks working on developing assets should take precedence over their playoff push this season.