Alexander and William Nylander have spent their lives competing at just about everything, from tennis to ping pong to golf and so on. But they've never had a chance to square off at their best sport, hockey, other than in practices or on the floor playing knee hockey.
That was bound to change once Alex was taken by the Sabres with the eighth overall selection in this summer's draft, two years after his brother was selected with the same pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs. It didn't take long, with both Nylanders expected to be in their teams' respective lineups when Buffalo meets Toronto for a preseason game tonight in St. Catharines, Ont.
Alex said that he got the best of his brother in ping pong this summer, while William was better on the golf course. Perhaps this is the tiebreaker?
"It's always, who's gonna win?" Alex said following Buffalo's morning skate. "This is going to be really fun tonight so we'll see who wins tonight. Hopefully we get the 'W.'"
Nylander will be playing in his second game of the preseason for the Sabres after making his debut against Minnesota on Monday. His greatest tool might be his speed, and while Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said he saw flashes of it against the Wild, the challenge for the rookie is learning how to apply it to the pace of the professional game on a consistent basis.
Watch: Alex Nylander | Watch: Derek Grant | Watch: Dan Bylsma
"I think most definitely, the speed of the game and the pace of the game is something that he's learning," Bylsma said. "Testing-wise, he's one of our fastest skaters, but the pace of which the NHL game [is played] and the pace of which you play is something he has to learn … He's more than capable of doing it."
He'll have to play fast if he's to keep up with his linemate, Evander Kane, another one of the Sabres' most dynamic skaters. Nylander played on a line with Kane through two scrimmages to open camp and the two were reunited in practice on Wednesday.
Video: Game Preview: Sabres at Maple Leafs
"The practice sessions yesterday, you saw Alex, his speed, make room for Evander on the rushes yesterday," Bylsma said. "Again, that's kind of a challenge for Alex. He's got to learn how to play at that speed and that pace and have it be effective."
Anders Nilsson will start in net for the Sabres and is expected to play the entire game with Jason Kasdorf serving as his backup.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. You can catch the game live on MSG or listen on WGR 550.
Rasmus is in the building
Rasmus Ristolainen is a restricted free agent for the Sabres, but he was at KeyBank Center on Thursday morning nonetheless. Bylsma said that Ristolainen requested to be able to skate while negotiations for a new deal continue between the Sabres and his representatives.
"The contract negotiation is between [Sabres general manager] Tim [Murray], the agent, and obviously Rasmus is involved but he wants to be back on the ice with his teammates," Bylsma said. "That's a good thing."
82 Marcus Foligno - 22 Johan Larsson - 21 Kyle Okposo
9 Evander Kane - 27 Derek Grant - 70 Alexander Nylander
26 Matt Moulson - 19 Cal O'Reilly - 52 Hudson Fasching
48 William Carrier - 43 Daniel Catenacci - 10 Cole Schneider
4 Josh Gorges - 47 Zach Bogosian
81 Mac Bennett/45 Brendan Guhle - 6 Cody Franson
41 Justin Falk - 46 Erik Burgdoerfer
31 Anders Nilsson
33 Jason Kasdorf
1. O'Reilly, Kane, Okposo, Moulson, Bogosian
2. Nylander, Franson, Foligno, Larsson, Schneider