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Nylander nearing the end of the long road back from injury

ROCHESTER – No one thought it would be this long.

Even in the super-secret world of hockey injuries where specifics are heavily guarded and information is carefully worded, this caught pretty much everyone off guard.

It was during the first game of the Prospects Challenge when Alexander Nylander suffered a lower body injury. The official word was that the Buffalo Sabres No. 1 draft pick in 2016 was being held out for precautionary reasons. Day-to-day was the status given.

That was on Sept. 9.

It took more than two months for Nylander to return to practice, joining the Rochester Americans on Monday.

Certainly fans and the media didn't think Nylander would miss the first two months of the season with an injury that was labeled "day to day."

"Oh, me, too. We're all in the same boat," said Amerks coach Chris Taylor, who coached Nylander at Sabres Development Camp and for that one game at the Prospects Challenge. "At Prospect Camp it was only supposed to be a couple-of-days thing and it just lingered on. He's been seen by a couple people and this is what they've told him – to stay off it a little bit longer. That's what he's been doing. And we just want him for the long term, not a short term and then back hurt. We want to make sure he's healthy and ready to go for the whole season."

Nylander has been skating on his own for some time but just joined the Amerks during practice this week. While there is a possibility the left winger will be in the lineup this weekend, either at home Friday when Rochester hosts Hartford or Saturday when the team travels to Binghamton, both coach and player are cautious with their word choice.

"It's close," Taylor said. "We'll wait and see for the final word, when he's ready and everybody's ready. It takes time. It's not just an easy process of getting back in the lineup as everyone thinks it is. It's tough."

Nylander was one of the last three players off the ice in Blue Cross Arena Wednesday morning before the Amerks hosted Binghamton. The 19-year-old wasn't going to be in that lineup, but his return would be soon, right?

"We'll see," Nylander said. "We're taking it day by day. I feel good. See how I feel. Hopefully very soon."

In his second professional season, Nylander definitely has the hockey-speak down.

Now to play a meaningful game to showcase all the work he put in during the offseason.

Nylander was poised to fight for a position with the Sabres in training camp after an up-and-down first year of pro hockey. He was a star for Sweden at the World Juniors with five goals and seven assists in seven games, but that didn't carry over into his Amerks play. At least not consistently. Still, he finished the season with four NHL games, a high note and motivation for the summer.

Bigger, more confident Nylander ready to prove himself to Sabres

He showed up to Sabres development camp physically bigger. He says he's stronger, and summer practices with the Sabres showed that, along with a bit of added intensity to his game.

Then came the injury. And everything was put on hold.

"It's tough, especially for a younger guy who wants to be out there," Taylor said. "He wanted to get back and (there are) new people in this organization he wanted to impress. That's important to him and he wanted to be out there badly, but this is the hand that he's been dealt. He's maturing each and every day about it and trying to get back. He's in great shape."

Without actual hockey to focus on, Nylander put all his effort into rehab while maintaining as much strength training as his injury allowed.

"I didn't really think it was that bad at first, but the injury just needed to take its time to heal and everything," Nylander said. "Just took a little longer. We're just taking it to be better be safe than sorry."

The patience, Nylander said, has paid off.

"Feeling really good out there and just really happy with the way everything's been going out there," Nylander said. "Just very excited to get things going.

"I worked really hard in the summer and got really prepared for the season to start. Of course it (stinks) that I got injured but it's not something I can really do anything about. I'm just focused on coming back stronger and I feel great on the ice. I don't feel any difference from the summer. I’m really happy about that."

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