Sophomore Spotlight: What should the Blackhawks expect from Nylander?

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

As the Chicago Blackhawks look ahead to resetting their record with a fresh slate, it provides a perfect opportunity for anyone ready to step up their play and blossom into a household name.

When next season gets underway, it will be Alexander Nylander’s second with the Chicago Blackhawks. They acquired him in July 2019 in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres. In his three prior seasons, while playing with the Sabres, Nylander only accumulated a total of 19 games played so his sample size left a lot to the imagination.

The intrigue was high as the 2019-20 season got underway, as it would provide the first real opportunity for this then 21-year-old to show the league, and his new team, what he was capable of.

During his first season with the Blackhawks, Nylander has already played in 65 games before the season was paused in March 2020. He earned 10 goals and 16 assists, with an average time on ice of over 12 minutes per game.

He was fitting in nicely and had already racked up more for his stat sheet in less than one full season with Chicago, than what he was able to achieve in three years with Buffalo. His output is trending in the right direction.

Alexander is a skillful, quick, offensive-minded forward, which is synonymous with the prevalent traits of the Stanley Cup-winning Blackhawks teams from the last decade. As a top-six forward, he’s surrounded by superstar mentors like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, while developing alongside the next generation of fan favourites like Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat. And even if he slid down the lineup, he’d still be skating with players like Kirby Dach and Dominik Kubalik, who are progressing towards Blackhawks star status in their own regards.

Nylander is entering the last year of his current contract and will be an RFA at the end of the 2020-21 season. Although the Blackhawks have been amongst the teams reaching towards the salary cap ceiling as of late, their financial landscape is positioned to open up in the near future, thereby allow management more flexibility than they’ve experienced in recent years.

Although other priorities may seem more pressing for this front office, signing Nylander should be on their list. If they can lock him in for a minimum of a two or three-year deal, it’s to everyone’s advantage. He gets to further develop in this system of superstars, while the Blackhawks benefit from the confidence and creativity he’s sure to grow into as his play continues to trend in that direction.

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There’s no denying that the Blackhawks are looking for ways to improve. As they should be, given the lack of success they’ve experienced these past few seasons. And this is a perfect scenario to hone in on what they have in front of them. Nylander may never reach the status that many of his teammates have already attained, but that’s less a judgment on him and more a respectful recognition of the Hall of Fame type careers of the names on the stalls that surround him.

Having tasted a sense of success and impact, in enjoying his best statistical year to date during his first as a Blackhawk, he’s positioned to take the next step in his career. The team he does that will directly benefit as a result.

And if his genetics are at all a testament to what his future will hold, with his father Michael Nylander playing 920 games in the NHL and his brother William Nylander entering his prime as a superstar for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Blackhawks fans have a lot to look forward to.