William Nylander can hear it in his younger brother’s voice. Alex Nylander is having a frustrating season.
While the elder Nylander is exploding onto the NHL scene with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Alex Nylander is experiencing the expected ups and downs in the American Hockey League.
The Sabres prospect is one of just 20 18-year-olds to play at least 15 games in the AHL since 1990. He entered Rochester’s game in Binghamton on Saturday night with nine goals and 26 points in 58 games.
“I talk to him almost like every day,” William Nylander said Saturday in KeyBank Center. “He's learning. It's a little different league. It takes time to get going. He's been going a little up and down, and hopefully he can finish the season off well.”
At .45 points per game, Alex Nylander is 10th in production among the AHL’s 20 18-year-olds since 1990. William Nylander is fourth on the list after putting up 14 goals and 32 points in 37 games with Toronto’s farm club in 2014-15.
“It's a learning process,” William Nylander said. “Every player has got to go through that stuff. He's learning. It will be a good year for him.”
Both Nylanders are products of Sweden’s junior program, and the country recently lobbied NHL general managers to keep their Swedish prospects at home. Sabres GM Tim Murray is against that, and William Nylander’s experience shows why.
The rookie entered Saturday’s game against the Sabres with 21 goals and 56 points in 72 games with the Maple Leafs.
"The AHL was good for me,” he said. “You got to play against men. Especially coming from Sweden on a smaller rink, it helped out for me.”
Coach Dan Bylsma acknowledges the Sabres’ brass will be watching closely during the final eight games to see who wants to be in Buffalo. Goaltender Robin Lehner hopes his teammates realize it.
“We’ve got to play for our careers,” Lehner said. “This is our job. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the playoffs or not. It’s very important games for a lot of players in here and us as a team. We can’t just put our skates on.
“Going forward with the plans for this team, there’s a lot of eyes on us right now. I think the guys up top are really looking at who wants to be on this team going forward. It’s up to each and every one of us to try and make a statement and show that you want to be here and care for this team.
“If you just put the skates on now, it’s not fair to our organization and it’s not fair to our fans. You’ve really got to keep going.”
Rasmus Ristolainen sat the first game of his three-game suspension. With the defenseman unavailable to man the blue line, the Sabres planned to use five forwards on their first power play. Ryan O’Reilly will play up top, Jack Eichel and Kyle Okposo will man the wings, while Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart will play in front of the net.
“You need to have a special guy on top to be able to do it, a guy who is comfortable there, responsible there,” Bylsma said. “For some players, it’s a little bit of an island, but Ryan has been there, sometimes rotates there in our rotation on our power play, has some comfort there.
“It adds some dynamic to your power play in some ways. The forwards have to have defensive responsibility as well. That doesn't change when it goes to five forwards. The flank guys still need to have that awareness defensively.”
Goalie Jonas Johansson, the Sabres’ third-round draft pick in 2014, made his North American debut Saturday night for the Amerks. Rochester has signed Johansson, forward Justin Danforth and defenseman Ian Brady to amateur tryout contracts for the remainder of the season.
Johansson played 37 games for Almtuna of Sweden’s secondary league, going 17-18 with a .912 save percentage. Danforth had 10 goals and 32 points in 37 games during his senior season at Sacred Heart University. Brady recorded three goals and 21 points in 32 games during his final year at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.