Alexander Nylander doesn’t have a stall in the Buffalo Sabres dressing room. Instead, he has a table and a chair set up in the front, keeping him near fellow Swedes Robin Lehner, Anders Milsson and Johan Larsson.
He’s hoping that by Tuesday evening, when NHL opening day rosters are finalized, he’s earned a full-time spot in that Swedish corner.
The Sabres top pick in June has been impressive at times in training camp. And with some injuries in the lineup, there’s a chance Nylander could still be around come Thursday’s season opener.
The Sabres have a full complement of options with the 18-year-old. Because he is European, Nylander can be loaned to the Rochester Americans and play in the NHL before he turns 20. The organization can return him to Mississauga of the Ontario Hockey League for another junior season or Nylander could play in Europe.
Odds are that Nylander will be in Buffalo or Rochester. Where he ends up, however, doesn’t seem to concern him all that much.
“I’m not nervous,” Nylander said of the upcoming roster cuts which will determine where he begins the 2016-17 season. “I’m just thinking about working hard in practice and stuff like that. Just getting ready for the season. That’s what I’m thinking about.”
Nylander said the biggest adjustment has been learning the Sabres systems and that with each passing practice and each game he has become more comfortable.
“I feel it’s gotten better every day,” Nylander said. “The coaches are helping me a lot these past two weeks. I feel more comfortable.”
While it’s the first NHL camp for Nylander, he already had some reconnaissance on what to expect. His father, Michael, played 920 NHL games while his brother, William was a first-round pick by Toronto in 2014 and is in his third year of pro hockey.
“Well, there’s just that you’re playing smarter players because it’s the NHL. Otherwise, it’s just what I expected,” Nylander said. “I watched my father play his whole career and my brother last year. So there’s nothing I didn’t expect really.”
Still, there’s a difference between watching your brother go through camp and experiencing it for yourself. There’s a learning curve to make jump from prospect to player and Nylander has shown flashes of his potential combined with typical rookie mistakes.
“I think Alex has shown spurts of both activity and inactivity,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said last week. “I’d like to see him be more assertive in his game and yes I think at times he’s been a little wide-eyed and standing around a little bit. I think that’s natural. We’ve talked to him about it, to be more assertive in his game. He’s a great player with great skill and great speed and he has to go out there and not stand around, not look around, not be in awe but go out and use it.”