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THE VERDICT: Nylander proud to build on family, Swedish legacy in Chicago

Growing up a Blackhawks and Patrick Kane fan, Nylander excited for fresh start with father's former club

by Bob Verdi /

Before us rests a copy of the 2002-03 Blackhawks Media Guide. But it does not rest for long because Alex Nylander, one of several new faces in town, sees a picture on the cover.

"That's my dad, Michael," he says. "Wearing 92, which is what I hope to wear now. Cool number, and I'd like to keep it in the family."

Michael played three serviceable seasons in Chicago. Problem is, only weeks after the book arrived, he departed.

"I was maybe 4," says Alex. "I came to games here, fooling around and doing knee hockey with my brother, William, in the green room between periods at the United Center. Or wives' room, whatever they call it. And our dad took us on the ice sometimes at practice, which was awesome. But the trade, I don't remember much about that. Washington?"

Video: Alex Nylander on Development Camp Day 1

Alex can relate now, having been dealt to the Blackhawks from the Buffalo Sabres. He was their first-round draft choice and eighth overall in 2016, but for whatever reason it didn't work out there. Alex talks of a "fresh start" in Chicago, which sounds incongruous for a lad of 21.

Still, it's not a new theme in the sports business. What happened in Buffalo stays in Buffalo, but that doesn't mean it can't work out here. Head Coach Jeremy Colliton raves about Alex's size, 192 pounds, explosive shot, imagination and ability to skate on either wing. Stan Bowman finishes the thought.

"Tremendous upside, Alex has," says the Blackhawks Senior VP/General Manager. "We had him ranked top 10 in 2016, and if we had a draft pick, we'd have grabbed him for sure."

Alex was having dinner back home in Sweden when he learned about his change of address. When Michael heard "Chicago," he beamed.

"Dad loved it here," says Alex. "And I have great memories too, even as a kid. I stayed in touch with our neighbors in Hinsdale, and just met them the other night at Nabuki. Great restaurant. Sushi. Not too familiar with the city, which is beautiful. But I remember the suburbs.

"And to come to this organization, all these stars, three Cups in the last few years. I've been a Blackhawks fan since I was 10, watching Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. He's been my favorite player, Kane. I've always felt this team is sick. Sick good. Such a tremendous opportunity for me. So excited. Very fortunate."

As a youngster with the elite Chicago Mission program, Alex at 13 took a picture with Kane. Nylander evolved into a special prospect but spent most of three professional seasons with the Sabres' farm club and logged only 19 games in Buffalo. The Blackhawks theorize Nylander's skill set is a better fit for the NHL.  

That also sounds odd, but Bowman suggests it might actually be easier for the supremely gifted to succeed in the world's best league. Passes are tape-to-tape, ingenuity does not go wasted. During last week's Development Camp, which Nylander forsook a planned vacation to attend, Nylander clicked with center Kirby Dach, the Blackhawks' June draft prize.

Swedes are everywhere, decades after they were nowhere. Ulf Sterner was the first European to make the NHL in 1965, but he didn't last long with the New York Rangers. Once, there existed a postulation that Swedes were softer than a baby's behind. But that dogma has largely vanished. Niklas Hjalmarsson, a terrific defenseman for the Blackhawks, never equated dropping gloves with toughness. He merely draped his body in front of speeding pucks.

Ask Bobby Hull, the Blackhawks' Hall of Fame ambassador, about Swedes. When he jumped to the Winnipeg Jets of the World Hockey Association in 1972, he joined a line with Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg. They lit it up. A massive breakthrough for Swedish hockey. Nilsson and Hedberg subsequently starred for the Rangers. 

Now there are four Swedes in the Hockey Hall of Fame - Borje Salming, Mats Sundin, Peter Forsberg, Nicklas Lidstrom - with more to follow. Elias Pettersson of the Vancouver Canucks recently earned the Calder Trophy as best rookie last season. Of course, the Swedes have to keep up with their neighbors, Finland.

"Rivals," says Alex. "We are rivals, but friendly rivals."

A noticeable facet of Swedish culture is humility. They climb the mountain to see, not to be seen.

"Exactly," says Alex. "It's not about me. It's more about everybody. About team."

And family.

"In this book," Alex says, scanning Michael's bio, "my mother's name is spelled wrong. Camilla, not Carmilla." 

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