Player: Alex Nylander
Born: March 2, 1998 (Age 25)
Height: 6’ 1”
Weight: 192 pounds
Hometown: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Draft: 2016 NHL Draft, 1st round (8th overall) by the Buffalo Sabres
2022-23 Statistics: 9 games played, one goal, one assist, two points
Contract Status: The Penguins signed Nylander in April for one more year at a league-minimum $775,000.
Fun fact: In just over a month between March and April, the Penguins called Nylander up five times and demoted him four times.
History: This was Nylander’s first season with the Penguins, and first NHL season in three years. He started out his career with three campaigns as a fringe NHL player with the Buffalo Sabres between 2016 and 2019, then played 65 games for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2019-20.
Story of the Season
Nylander made his Penguins debut— and played his first NHL game since August 2020— on March 7 as an emergency recall to fill out a thin forward roster against the Blue Jackets (Mikael Granlund was sick, while Bryan Rust was attending the birth of his child.)
The new call-up skated on a line with Jeff Carter and Drew O’Connor in what turned out to be one of the most thrilling games of the season. The Penguins went down 4-0 to the visitors, then launched a five-goal comeback that Sidney Crosby ended with a goal in OT.
Nylander was not just an observer. He contributed an assist to the comeback, earned scoring chances in front of the net and was active on the back check. It was an encouraging debut from a player already excelling in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“I just tried not to do too much in my first game. Tried to keep it simple. Move my feet and make some plays. Tried to keep it simple and work hard out there.” Nylander about his March 7 Penguins debut, per Pittsburgh Hockey Now
The winger spent five more games in the NHL before returning to the AHL. Nylander returned for three contests at the end of the season, where he scored his first Penguins goal in a 5-1 defeat of the Red Wings in Detroit on April 8.
In the meantime, Nylander was enjoying the most prolific season of his six-year AHL career. He led all WBS scorers with 25 goals, even given the driving time required by his five call-ups, and added 25 assists in 55 games.
Regular season 5v5 advanced stats
Data via Natural Stat Trick. Ranking is out of 16 forwards on the team who qualified by playing a minimum of 100 minutes.
Nylander skated the fewest minutes out of the 16 forwards, just barely clearing the 100-min threshold. Beware the small sample size.
Corsi For%: 62.50% (1st)
Goals For%: 55.56% (3rd)
xGF%: 6.41% (16th)
Scoring Chance %: 63.37% (1st)
High Danger Scoring Chance%: 62.26% (1st)
5v5 on-ice shooting%: 7.14% (9th)
On-ice save%: 90.48% (14th)
Goals/60: .55 (11th)
Assist/60: .55 (15th)
Points/60: 1.1 (12th)
- Like we said, the small sample size makes these rankings almost meaningless. We can tell, however, that Nylander was getting scoring chances with the limited time he had.
Again, warning for small sample size.
Here’s a look at how Nylander’s numbers played out this season:
Nylander spent about an hour of total time up on the second line with Evgeni Malkin and Jason Zucker, per Natural Stat Trick. He also skated alongside Mikael Granlund and Ryan Poehling, and briefly with O’Connor and Carter at the very start of his Penguins tenure.
The largest sample of Nylander’s performance at the NHL level came back in 2019-20, when he skated for 65 games with the Blackhawks. During that season, his shooting accuracy varied wildly both under and over the expected rate. Years have passed since then, and he was consistent for the WBS Penguins this year. It would be interesting to see how his shooting looks in another significant NHL stretch.
There’s not a lot to read into here regarding Nylander’s offensive impact, given he played on a handful of games with rotating linemates. Still, his impact was positive enough to likely earn him another shot at the NHL level.
Nylander registered his first Penguins point on a Jason Zucker goal by protecting the puck in the corner before dropping it back for Evgeni Malkin, who fed Zucker in front of the net.
For Nylander’s first Pittsburgh goal, he showed admirable patience as he dragged the puck back to out-wait Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard.
At the AHL level, Nylander looked downright unstoppable for stretches of last season.
Alex Nylander puts WBS up 1-0. His 16th goal of the year, 8th as a Penguin.— Taylor Haase (@TaylorHaasePGH) February 20, 2022
Nylander now has 16 points in 22 games since the trade. pic.twitter.com/qPBDsEx7Xs
Nylander didn’t get a lot of time with the Penguins last year, but his NHL showing and a successful AHL run was enough to earn him a one-year extension. Like every question about the Penguins, this answer will depend on who takes the helm this summer, but it seems the 2018 first-rounder still has a shot at making the NHL.
If Nylander gets another shot, maybe this time debuting earlier in the season, the Penguins would hope his play echoes last season’s offensive success in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and the flashes of defensive reliability he demonstrated in Pittsburgh. If so, he could be a solid and cheap bottom-six winger.
How would you grade Alex Nylander’s 2022-23 season?
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