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FEATURE: Nylander's offensive talent full of 'stuff you can't teach'

Blackhawks deal from position of strength for coveted Nylander

by Chris Kuc /

Seated at the draft table on the floor of First Niagara Center in Buffalo without a first-round selection during the 2016 NHL Draft, Blackhawks Senior Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman waited patiently while some of the top prospects in hockey were scooped up by other teams.

One of the players Bowman had admired going into the draft was flashy forward Alexander Nylander, who was taken with the No. 8 pick by the Sabres. On Tuesday, Bowman finally got his man as the Blackhawks acquired the 21-year-old Nylander from the Sabres in exchange for defenseman Henri Jokiharju.

"It's not easy to acquire talented players like Alex," Bowman said during a conference call following the trade. "He's somebody we scouted … (and) we were very impressed with him. He's a guy we had a lot of time for and we knew we weren't going to be able to draft him, drafting in the second round. But he's such a high-skilled, talented player so when those are the situations you're looking at, trying to acquire someone like that, you have to deal from a position of strength."

So Bowman dipped into the Blackhawks' cadre of defensive prospects and sent the promising Jokiharju to Buffalo.

"It's really more the depth of our defense prospects that made this a move we were able to make," Bowman said. "I guess that's probably the simple answer to why we were able to do this now as opposed to a year ago at this time."

The addition of Nylander, who had two goals and two assists in 12 games with the Sabres during the 2018-19 season, further crowds the team's forward group but Bowman said the son of former Blackhawks center Michael Nylander will get an opportunity to make the 2019-20 Opening Night roster.

"I expect (Alex Nylander) to be fighting for a spot on our team, for sure," Bowman said. "We don't hand out those jobs in the summer, but I think with his offensive talent and his skill level, it's certainly exciting to think what he can be when you put him with some of the players we have.

"If you look at our team last year, we had two pretty good pairs there between (Patrick) Kane and (Jonathan) Toews and (Dylan) Strome and (Alex) DeBrincat," Bowman continued. "One thing about (Nylander) that is appealing, as well, is that he can play left and right wing. Not every player can do that, but he has the skill level to play on the off-wing."

The swap of Nylander and Jokiharju was an exchange of players in the infancy of their NHL careers and it's clear that Bowman is impressed with Nylander's offensive potential.

"The strength for Alex would clearly be his offensive talent, his instinct to make plays, score goals (and) set up plays," Bowman said. "He's one of those players - (and) there aren't a lot of them - who have the ability to create opportunities out of nothing. He can dance around the offensive zone with the puck and make those high-end plays, which are hard to do.

"The thing that is appealing to us is when you look at what he does when he's at his best, it's stuff you can't teach," Bowman added. "It's high-end talent. He has that creativity to his game. He's a big guy, 6'1", about 200 pounds, so you get the skating and skill and stick-handling. I think finding the consistency, it hasn't quite come together for him yet, but we do see progression in his game and we think we can help him become a consistent performer. So it's a very exciting skillset that he brings to the table."

Coming to the Blackhawks is a new beginning for Nylander, who sounded as if he welcomed the change of scenery after appearing in 19 games spanning three seasons with the Sabres. He also appeared in 165 regular-season games with AHL Rochester during which he had 30 goals and 56 assists.

"I thought maybe I would be in the NHL sooner than I have been, but I'm just really excited and looking forward to being part of the Blackhawks organization," Nylander said. "They're really good with development players. They actually know what they're doing. I'm going to do my best and stuff that happened in Buffalo and Rochester is obviously in the past."

What will happen with him in the Blackhawks organization is still to be determined, but Nylander is eager to display his talents with a new team.

"I'm just really happy right now and really excited for the future," he said. "I just want to play my game and show them the player I can be."

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