Blackhawks’ Alex Nylander has the tools but needs to take a step in 20-21

It’s time we accepted Alexander Nylander played a fine first season with the Blackhawks, his first full time showing in the NHL. But he needs to take another step to make the trade worth it.

Chicago Blackhawks rookie forward Alex Nylander posted a 49.4% Corsi, a 48.7% Fenwick, started nearly 54% of the time in the defensive zone, and still contributed 26 points. Like him or not, that is a solid rookie campaign.

Prior to this past season, Bowman traded our top defenseman prospect Henri Jokiharju to Buffalo for the underperforming but very promising forward Alex Nylander, in a move to make room on the defensive pipeline for prospects and bring in a skilled young forward.

He hasn’t lit the world on fire at all but the kid has some real talent. He scored the season-opening goal for Chicago, added nine more throughout his 65 game campaign, and picked up 16 assists for a total of 26 points in his first full, real season in the NHL.

That’s acceptable considering his role was so limited, averaging 12 minutes a night. That number however is inflated by the injuries the Blackhawks suffered, forcing Jeremy Colliton’s hand in putting Nylander up. You really can’t expect a player to succeed when you’re setting him up to fail by giving him almost no consistent ice time with offensively minded players.

There were times when Nylander looked like he was coasting, but for the most part, he was at least attempting to do the right things, winning pucks, suppressing shots, etc. That 49.4% mark mentioned at the top puts him as the 6th best forward on the team by Corsi (among skaters who played 30+ games).

The biggest complaint I can make about the kid is this; he can over-pass and off the puck, he can gain a step.  I feel like this has more to do with his fear that Colliton might not trust him in an offensive role. If Nylander frequents social media, I’m sure he’s aware of most of the fan’s disdain for him. That can eat at a young player’s psyche, being brought in as a part of this big prospect / young gun trade and not having the faith and well wishes of your new coach and fanbase.

The playoffs were rough for him, but going into the Vegas series he was among the team leaders in Corsi and started even more often in the defensive zone. Additionally, the Vegas series tanked every player on the team’s metrics. There were times we screamed at our TVs for him to shoot the puck. However, we can’t forget his age and unique skill; there’s a reason Patrick Kane liked playing with him.

There is a path that sees Nylander unlocking his potential. He has a good shot and watching the tape on his goals shows that. Half his goals, the goalie had no chance on because of his deception. He has soft hands that force defenders and goalies to respect his options and his eye for passing lanes. For example, the pass he fed Drake Cagguila against Washington. Holtby got absolutely smoked.

Nylander needs someone to remind him to be the trigger guy sometimes instead of deferring to his linemates; because with his speed, shot, and skill the kid could become a solid top 6 forward for years to come. The tools are there and the kid’s just 22. Maybe we should let him have a chance before throwing a fit because we miss Jokiharju and loathe Bowman. Nylander doesn’t control who trades for him.