If you wanted to see slick skating and puck dangling from a first-round draft pick, Alex Nylander has been as advertised during Sabres development camp in HarborCenter. It’s what makes the 3-on-3 tournament that wraps up camp Tuesday morning at 9:15 so interesting. A wonderful gimmick like this is made for the skill guys.
The prospects spent tons of time on puck handling drills Monday. One of those was in the neutral zone, with players and coaches criss-crossing while darting through the center circle. Keep your head up or get crunched. During one rep, Nylander had about three dozen taps on the puck with both sides of his stick, including some through the legs of a couple of players.
You want to talk about some sick mitts? It was downright filthy.
“Even doing crossovers, you’re trying to have your head up so you know where players are coming from and coming at you,” Nylander said. “You want to think like it’s a game situation, keep the puck on your stick, don’t lose it and then try to add as much speed as possible while carrying it.”
“He’s the most skilled player here,” said fellow Swede and World Junior linemate Rasmus Asplund, who was Buffalo’s second-round pick. “He has huge skill. He’s the guy that can make a difference in every game. He’s the difference between winning and losing a game, in my opinion.”
The Sabres retweeted a Nylander video from Thursday taken by a fan that showed him working the puck with three nets lined up in front of each other – and flipping it over one of them to keep the drill moving. He was a shootout dynamo in Saturday’s scrimmage. Monday’s puck work was slick, and then some practice 3-on-3 time had Nylander rip one shot into the top corner of the net and dump another puck home on a give-and-go with William Carrier.
“You can kind of just tell if you pay a little extra attention to him that every puck he shoots is crisp, it’s in a direction,” said winger Hudson Fasching. “He’s aiming for a really small area a lot of times, and it looks like he’s hitting it. You just look for the small details in a guy like that.”
It is, after all, known as The Snipe Show.
Or more specifically, SnipeShow98. That’s Nylander’s Twitter handle, with the number signifying his birth year. Cool name. Should stick for a long time. He came up with it to one-up his older brother, Leafs prospect William Nylander. William’s handle was Snizzbone but the Leafs’ social media team didn’t like it and had him take it down in April.
“My brother had a pretty cool name but I had to make a better one than him,” he said. “He liked it but I think he was a little jealous.”
Nylander said he was kidding there, but admitted he’s ultra-competitive in everything. (And the fact is, he has a much better name.)
On a more serious note, he again made a passing but noticeable reference Monday about making the NHL right now. Interesting to hear. There is plenty of confusion about Nylander’s status for the upcoming season but he has four options. Kindly pay attention, class, so I don’t keep getting this question on Twitter 20 times a day.
Obviously, Nylander can play for the Sabres or return to Mississauga of the OHL. He can also rejoin his team in Sweden, although that seems to be the least likely.
Nylander, however, is not the standard NHL-or-junior option we’ve seen play out over the years numerous times for the likes of, say, Tyler Myers or Sam Reinhart. He was brought to the OHL as a loaned player. Because he wasn’t selected in the CHL Import draft, he counts as an overseas player and thus is eligible to play in the AHL for the Rochester Amerks even though he’s only 18.
Zemgus Girgensons played the 2012-13 season with the Amerks as an 18-year-old because he came from the United States Hockey League, which does not have the same agreement as Canadian junior leagues. The juniors have been steadfast about keeping the rules in place because they know they would lose plenty of 18- and 19-year-olds to the AHL, where many of them actually belong.
It would seem to make the most sense for the Sabres to put Nylander in Rochester. Keep testing him against older players on the smaller North American ice. Have him close by if the need arises in the NHL too. And loan him out to Sweden for another World Juniors run – with the tournament easily accessible in Montreal and Toronto.
“It’s always an honor to put on the jersey to represent your country,” Nylander said. “I don’t know where I will play to start the season but that was a lot of fun last year. It’s an unbelievable tournament to play, such good experience for you.”
You have to couch summer impressions and not get too crazy. This is development camp, with almost no NHL players on the ice. With some players who will, sorry to burst their hopes, never make the league. Nylander is obviously a standout here but it’s very difficult to make any true comparisons.
Things get real in earnest in September when he will be doing training camp drills against NHL players. And with the World Cup of Hockey going on, he’ll certainly get some time in exhibition games as well.
It is pretty amazing to think that less than two months ago Nylander knew very little about Buffalo. A lot changes for these guys in their draft year but there’s no one else in the league from the 2016 class who had as direct a correlation with his draft city as Nylander.
“I didn’t know much, didn’t know where I was going to go,” he said. “Then the combine was here and that was a lot of fun. Then the draft is here and you start to really get to know the city a little.
“Getting drafted here was unbelievable and I got lucky because I’m here and I’ve already been in the city twice getting used to it. It’s been fun but it’s all been going really fast.”
Sort of like watching the puck moving on the kid’s stick around the ice.