The first round of the NHL draft has come to a close. With a great deal of speculation regarding potential trades involving the Sabres, the affair was relatively uneventful. The Sabres did not end up trading their top pick for a defenseman and Tim Murray did not trade back into the first round.
The Sabres stayed put at pick number eight and selected their winger of the future with just four words from the infamously reticent Tim Murray. “Buffalo selects Alex Nylander.”
Nylander played last season in the OHL (on loan from the Swedish Hockey league) for the Mississauga Steelheads. The 18-year-old Swedish winger registered 75 points in 57 games last season. Nylander is a highly skilled player who displays impressive scoring touch and offensive awareness.
His soft hands and creativity in the offensive zone caught the attention of the Sabres brass during the scouting process. Nylander could stand to enhance his defensive game and physical presence, both of which should improve with a season of development at the professional level.
His name was one of many speculated to be of interest to the Sabres brass leading up to the draft, however there was some doubt regarding his availability at pick number eight. Pundits around the hockey world had him ranked anywhere from fifth overall to tenth overall in recent weeks.
In addition to his pronounced talents on the ice, Nylander boasts a noteworthy NHL pedigree. His father Michael Nylander played 16 seasons in the NHL for seven different franchises, notching 679 points in 920 career games.
Some Sabres fans may remember him from the Sabres-Rangers Eastern Conference semi-final playoff series in 2006-07. His brother William was also drafted eighth overall in 2014 by the Toronto Maple Leafs. The elder Nylander brother projects as a top line forward in the Maple Leafs system moving forward.
He posted 13 points in 22 games in his first taste of NHL minutes last season. The Sabres addition of Alexander certainly adds fuel to the increasingly broiling Buffalo-Toronto rivalry. He expressed excitement at the idea of playing against his older brother. “It’s going to be a lot of fun,” he said. “Hopefully my team wins.”
A versatile winger to slot into the top six was a major hole in the Sabres organization prior to the selection. Tim Murray mentioned during the offseason that Jack Eichel’s linemate of the future (aside from Sam Reinhart) was probably not currently in the organization.
Nylander operates with speed and playmaking ability that projects to pair well with Eichel’s natural goal scoring talent. Nylander beamed at the possibility of playing alongside a teammate of Eichel’s caliber. “I was watching the draft last year with Eichel and they have some pretty phenomenal players on the ice and it will be really fun playing with them one day.”
More likely than not, Nylander will either spend next season in the SHL for Rogle BK or in the AHL with the Sabres minor league affiliate Rochester Amerks. He could of course surprise us and make the Sabres roster as early as next season, however most experts feel one more year of development would serve him well before a move to the NHL level.
There is little doubt that this most recent addition will secure the Sabres’ offensive core for the future with players like Eichel, Reinhart, Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane already in the fold. The acquisition of Jimmy Vesey would add another versatile piece to the offensive puzzle if the Sabres are able to sign him to a contract (Buffalo acquired his rights in a trade with Nashville earlier this week for a third round pick).
Though some fans may be disappointed in the Sabres’ lack of transactions during day one of the draft, don’t be surprised if the wily Tim Murray has a few more tricks up his sleeve to acquire an NHL ready defenseman the club sorely needs on the left side.
Names like Cam Fowler and Kevin Shattenkirk are still on the trade block and could be had for the right price. Murray could also look to add defensive prospects to the farm system in the coming rounds. Aside from Will Borgen and Brendan Guhle, the Sabres lack high end prospects on the back end.