The Penguins picked up Alex Nylander for a third (and final?) chance in the former high pick’s NHL career and he will check in at No. 15 on this summer’s list of the top you
Related: 2022 Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25: Graduates and Departed
#25: Nolan Collins
#24: Colin Swoyer
#23: Jonathan Gruden
#22: Ty Glover
#21: Kirill Tankov
#20: Judd Caulfield
#19 Corey Andonovski
#18: Jordan Frasca
#17: Isaac Belliveau
#16: Taylor Gauthier
#15: Alex Nylander - LW/RW
Age: 24 (March 2, 1998)
Height/Weight: 6’1”/ 192 lbs.
Acquired Via: Trade with Chicago (January 2022)
Only 24 years old, Alex Nylander has already been on a whirlwind of ups and downs in his hockey career, traveling around the circuit to plenty of places. Drafted eighth overall in 2016, Nylander was able to come over and play in the AHL right away, while getting a few looks in Buffalo in his first three seasons. Unable to find much of a niche with that organization, he was dealt to Chicago ahead of the 2019-20 season.
That led to the most successful season he has had to date, playing all year with the Blackhawks and scoring 26 points in 65 games at the NHL level. Unfortunately a knee injury cost him his whole 2020-21 season and he was lost in the shuffle in Chicago, never to play with the Blackhawks again after that lone season.
At the end of the rope in organization No. 2, Nylander again got a blank slate in early 2022 with a trade to the Penguins in exchange for Sam Lafferty. The Penguins opted to stash Nylander in the AHL for the rest of the 2021-22 season, where he scored 30 points in 44 games with Wilkes and led them in scoring in the playoffs with six points in six post-season games.
On the surface, everyone says the right things about Nylander. He’s worked hard to fit in on the team in Wilkes, he’s improved defensively. He has the offensive talent to pitch in at the AHL level.
The biggest question about Nylander remains his ceiling and forward-looking contributions. It’s a long way since draft day, and other than draft status there isn’t a ton going for him in 2022 and after a major injury. He’s not young as far as NHL prospects go any longer, with players like Sam Poulin, Filip Hallander and Valtteri Puustinen to compete with for NHL attention. Pittsburgh has re-stocked themselves by signing players like Danton Heinen, Josh Archibald, Drake Caggiula who range from way-ahead-to-moderately-in-the-way too.
Other fringe type players near the NHL/AHL cut line, like Drew O’Connor and Radim Zohorna, have more experience with Mike Sullivan that figure to slot ahead of Nylander as well, considering their AHL production is as good or better than Nylander’s.
At worst, Nylander will be a solid AHL level player for the upcoming season who will add some talent and skill to a Wilkes-Barre team that badly needs it. At best, it’s tough to see how Nylander breaks the logjam in front of him to make much of an NHL impact, even under the most dire of circumstances.
Signed to a one-year deal this summer, 2022-23 could be the last best chance that Nylander has to stand out a training camp and make some waves. With Pittsburgh’s sheer number of players in the same boat, he could also be little more than a novelty and deep organizational depth at this point for future NHL prospects.
For the Pens, it was a no lose situation to pick Nylander up in a trade, boost the organization and give an opportunity to see if the third time would be a charm for something to click and Nylander to really excel. While his time in Wilkes-Barre has been far from a disappointment, he also scored 30 points in 44 games and not like 50+ or anything to suggest a huge future.
With time running out to turn heads, it remains to be seen just how much of an opportunity Nylander will get. The team is stocked with plenty of NHL options, it will be up to him next month to really change the thinking around his situation and get deeper into the conversation.