Alex Nylander just got out of his teens. He's in a no-win position with his draft status. He started the season with a serious injury. It's almost unfair to rip his play.
But he makes it so easy.
The Buffalo Sabres prospect had an uninspired postseason as Rochester was swept out of the first round. He was dropped to the fourth line. He lost his power-play spot. He did next to nothing during his limited shifts.
And he thinks he's ready for the NHL.
With the organization watching, Nylander was among those whose stock dipped during the three-game playoff series. The left winger had no shots during the opening game in Syracuse while skating on a scoring line. Demoted, he had one shot in the second period of Game 2. His second and final shot came during a third-period audition up the lineup in Game 3.
That's not the offensive production of a No. 8 overall draft pick. His speed was average. His passing was erratic, sometimes hitting players in stride and also missing wide-open defensemen at the point. He collected a rebound during the first period of Game 2, spun away from a defender then fanned on an open shot that went way wide. He continually failed to handle passes up the boards. He bumped two opponents and peeled away from other contact.
Asked to assess his play, he talked only about needing to be careful with turnovers along the blue line, playing as simple as possible and getting going with on- and off-ice training this summer.
"Just be as prepared as possible to be in Buffalo next year," Nylander said.
He may not know it yet, but it's a long way from the fourth line of an American Hockey League team to a full-time NHL job.
Aside from Nylander's subpar play, what's hurting his reputation is the success of players drafted behind him. Then-General Manager Tim Murray said he liked three players with the No. 8 pick, and two of those were defensemen.
Montreal selected defenseman Mikhail Sergachev at No. 9 and traded him to Tampa Bay for forward Jonathan Drouin. Sergachev had nine goals and 31 assists in 79 games for the Lightning this season and has a playoff goal.
Boston drafted defenseman Charlie McAvoy at No. 14. He had seven goals, 32 points and a plus-20 rating in 63 games while skating 22:09 per night, just behind workhorse Zdeno Chara (22:54).
Arizona selected Jakub Chychrun, a Florida neighbor of the Pegula family, at No. 16. The defenseman has already played two full NHL seasons, putting up 11 goals and 34 points in 118 games.
Nylander has one goal and one assist in seven NHL games. He has 18 goals and 37 assists in 119 AHL games.
Still, it's too early to slap on the "bust" label. Nylander turned 20 in March. His entry-level contract hasn't even started yet, sliding twice because of his age and lack of NHL games.
He also missed the opening three months with a lower-body injury that negated noticeable offseason progress.
"I've never been injured before, so I learned a lot of things just from being injured," Nylander said after the elimination game. "It's tough to get going after an injury, and once you start going you just need to keep doing things that are good for you and just get back to your game as quick as possible."
Nylander has yet to show what his game can be. At least that's what the organization and fans hope. If he has shown what he can do, it's not much.
"I think I can be a really good player," he said. "I'm going to be working really hard this summer. Obviously, my goal is to make Buffalo next year and I'm just going to be working really hard to make that happen. I know I can do it if I want to."
Story topics: Alex Nylander