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Penguins Grade: Alex Nylander, Can He Stick?



Pittsburgh Penguins, Alex Nylander

Alex Nylander was the most requested song on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ radio for a couple of months after he began to fill the net with their AHL farm team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The faded prospect was the eighth overall pick in 2016 by the Buffalo Sabres, seemingly a lifetime ago. He passed through the Buffalo and Chicago Blackhawks organizations, getting NHL chances in each before spending most of the last two seasons with the WBS Penguins.

Nylander, 25, didn’t irrevocably seize an NHL spot with both hands this season, but instead, he showed a surprising two-game with tenacity. For a supposed softy who only played on one end of the rink, he showed a backchecking ferocity and responsible game.

Gaining the trust of an NHL head coach will go a long way toward getting a consistent lineup spot, too.

Like many young players and all of the Penguins’ under-25 set, consistency was an issue as he faded toward the end of his first seven-game stint. However, he scored what could have been a momentous goal in the Penguins’ second-to-last game of the season when he netted a game-changing tally in Detroit. The Penguins were struggling, and Nylander’s goal changed the game in what was essentially a must-win game.

“It felt really nice. I had a couple of chances in the games when I played before, and it didn’t go,” Nylander said after the game. “I’m just really happy that went in. And obviously, we got to keep going and keep shooting in the puck.”

Yet he had only two points (1-1-2) in nine NHL games.

As a side note, no, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan does not hate young players. That trope has become a bit more tedious than a Dane Cook stand-up, but this column probably won’t deter it much.

Alex Nylander Grade: B

There are two ways to grade Nylander. A) On the curve against the player he was. In that case, he gets a 1600 SAT score and endless praise. B) Against the NHL competition.

We chose B because how he played against NHLers is all that actually matters, but he deserves significant praise for remodeling his game. Not many players can do that. That’s a genuine tip-of-the-cap moment.

Just two points are a little dry for a player with his skills, and he didn’t make much of an impact in some games.

Of course, that much seat time in his car — he shuffled back and forth to WBS regularly for a couple of weeks — can take a toll, too.

Nylander was on the Joseph Blandisi plan, though to our knowledge, he has not yet earned the nickname Yo-Yo.

His backchecking was superb over the first handful of games and again in his second chance over the last few games of the season. He broke up odd-man rushes and defended well.

Nylander has good speed, but he’s not a speedster. He probably still has those soft hands that catapulted him up the draft board in the first place. And he showed he can score goals in the AHL by potting a career-high 25 with the WBS Penguins.

Nylander could have done more on the fun side of the red line at the NHL level. Perhaps that will come with a little more confidence at the top level, too.

Overall, Nylander earned a solid grade. He earned a chance to be under heavy consideration for a bottom-six role next season, but not enough to guarantee it. He’s still on the “earn it” plan, but that’s a far cry from where he began last season, an also-ran going through the motions of preseason and training camp with an already assured fate.

Nylander broke through, and the next steps will be up to him. A well-earned opportunity.