We’re four games into getting a look at 2016 first-round pick Alex Nylander with the Buffalo Sabres this season. His AHL numbers in the first three years of his professional career have been underwhelming, but he’s shown signs of promise with the Sabres in a small sample size so far this season.
One of the reasons for that success can be attributed to his linemates of Conor Sheary and Evan Rodrigues. The two are veteran forwards with experience that can help Nylander acclimate to the NHL game.
Sheary is a two-time Stanley Cup winner that has struggled with some luck this season but has been a finisher for the majority of his NHL career. The 26-year-old goes to the high-danger areas of the ice for his scoring chances and knows how to create space for himself for scoring opportunities.
Nylander is a pretty good passer and he’s shown in a few games the ability to find Sheary in those prime scoring areas. “Last night I probably owed him a couple with some of the passes he gave me and tonight we were able to capitalize,” said Sheary after the Sabres win over the Blues yesterday.
Rodrigues, on the other hand, is a high-volume shooter that will help his line stay on the positive end of the shot share. He transitions the puck well from defense to offense and has some play-making ability in his game as well.
The 25-year-old forward has embraced helping Nylander get comfortable in the NHL this season and his guidance has shown on the ice. “I’m trying to talk to him a lot and make the game easier for him,” said Rodrigues. He went on to say: “he has high-level skill obviously and when you can let him know whether he has the time or has to make a quick play its definitely going to help out his game.”
You saw one instance of Nylander’s quick decision making on the Sabres second goal of the game. He made a nice breakout pass to Rodrigues to spring him up the ice and eventually scored to get the lead back.
Sheary and Rodrigues both play a quick pace game, which then forces Nylander to play that style as well. The 21-year-old is at his best when he’s moving his feet and using his instincts to play the game.
In the one game away from that line this season, Nylander, was caught a lot watching the play and not being active in the play offensively.
As a trio in three games together this season they’ve put up some impressive numbers at 5 on 5:
- CF% - 73.85%
- GF/A (goals for/against - +2
- SCF% (scoring chances for percentage) – 83.33%
- HDCF% (high-danger chances for percentage) – 92.31%
This is an extremely small sample size of 28:49 together at 5 on 5 according to Natural Stat Trick. The early returns, however, are good. They’ve been the Sabres best line without question the last two games.
Nylander himself has some impressive numbers (again, small sample size) so far with the Sabres. He’s second on the team in xG per 60 (0.91) and first on the team in on-ice xG percentage (66.1%) according to Moneypuck. It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how those numbers look after the remaining 10 games.
The Swedish-born forward has a good shot that can beat goaltenders at the NHL, but he’s shown more of his playmaking side so far. He picked up two assists last night and should have had a few in the game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.
In his draft year playing for the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL, he had 28 goals but added 47 assists to go along with that. Last season with the Amerks 19 of his 27 points were helpers and this season 19 of his 31 points were assists as well.
While Nylander has that scoring touch, he may be better suited as a playmaker at the NHL level. He’s not known for his willingness to get to the front of the net consistently. If he’s put on a line with players like Rodrigues and Sheary that know how to find space for scoring chances; Nylander can use his vision to set them up.
So far it has been a good start for Nylander with the Sabres. He needs to remain consistent in his level of play for the remainder of the season.
If the line of Sheary, Rodrigues, and Nylander can continue to have success, the Sabres may have found themselves a nice middle-six line for next season.