Saturday, November 5, 2016

Alexander Nylander vs Syracuse Crunch 11/4/16 (Grade A-)

Tonight Alexander Nylander turned in the best performance of anyone I have scouted so far this year. In a game that finished in a very disappointing final period Nylander's performance was good enough to earn the nights third star, and an A- in my grade book. I think tonight the 18 year old showed flashes of why he was taken 8th overall in the 2016 draft. However he still has a few things to work on if he is going to play at the NHL level.  

The first weakness in Nylander's game was evident the first time he stepped onto the ice and constantly affected his play tonight. In a game where it was tough to read jersey numbers because of the camouflage alternates Nylander stood out as a boy amongst men. He was constantly looking to avoid contact. He played like he was afraid when he was on the puck and very frequently stopped short of defenders to avoid a hit. In the second period he was forced into a situation where he was required to make a check at center ice and ended up picking himself up off the ice instead.  On the defensive side of the puck he looked like he didn't belong for much of the night.  His forecheck was very ineffective and he frequently lost tract of forwards in the zone. He seemed uninterested in playing defense for much of the night. I want to give some praise to coach Lambert for pairing him with Rodrigues to help compensate. I can't be to harsh on Nylander for shying from contact because at the end of the day, he is still only 18 years old and played the style of hockey that suits his game (and health) best. But he needs to pick up his intensity on the defensive end.
On the offensive side of the puck Nylander was a revelation for most of the night. He was smart in puck possession and had few turnovers. Even though he avoided contact it was very apparent early on that if he wanted to run away, nobody on the Crunch was going to catch him. As a result he was pumping rubber all night long. He led the Amerks in the shot column tonight and all of them (excluding one shot that sailed high) were well placed shots that forced a save and created a rebound. His highlight for the night was a perfectly placed wrist rocket that gave the the Amerks a 2-0 lead on a 2 on 1. The goalie gave him too much space on the near post and I was happy to see him take advantage instead of trying to make a play passing the puck. 

A large chunk of the ice time Nylander received was on the point during the power play. I thought he was extremely conservative and needed to take more shots from the point instead of passing to his defensive partner. He did a good job in the zone getting to loose pucks first and getting the puck either back in the corner or to a stick on the point. There was a moment when the puck was turned over and he was required to perform his defensive responsibilities in his own zone. He looked so lost that I had to watch him through the fingers covering my eyes. However there is a definitive reason that Nylander deserves to play the point on the power-play, and I think it can be the difference that turns him into an elite offensive weapon even at the NHL level. That would be his body positioning. I saw shades of Tyler Seguin in him the way he was able to set up for a slap shot as the puck came to him. It was most notable during an extended chance during a 4 on 3. The only difference being unlike Seguin he never actually followed through and took the shot. If he develops a shoot first mentality in those situations I think he can transform the Amerks into a top 5 AHL power-play unit.

After tonight it is very clear that Nylander is going to be able to contribute at the NHL level. Currently I would rate him as my top prospect within the organization. Right now I think the only thing that is going to prohibit him from playing at the next level is his size. I love potential he has on the point. My bold prediction is by this time of the season in two years Nylander will be a top 6 forward for the Sabres. 


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