Second City Hockey’s 2021-22 preseason Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25 series ranks the organization’s top 25 players under the age of 25 by Oct. 1, 2021. The rankings are determined by a composite score from all four SCH writers. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. All four ballots will be released after the series is completed.
After failing to impress during his first season with the Blackhawks, Alex Nylander missed the entire 2021 season after having knee surgery just before Christmas in 2020.
Nylander’s entry-level contract — the one he signed with the Buffalo Sabres, the team that drafted him — expired in the summer but Chicago brought him back on a one-year deal worth $847,125 that feels like a “prove it” contract for Nylander and what could be his final chance to audition for a spot as a part of Chicago’s long-term plans.
The story with Nylander is all-too-familiar at this point. In 65 games during the 2019-20 regular season, he had 10 goals and 16 assists, which projects to 32 or 33 points in an 82-game schedule. That’s subpar for a second-line winger but a pretty good performance from a third-line winger. Yet it felt underwhelming for Nylander, because a former top-ten pick with the talent he’s flashed at times should be score higher on an evaluation than “subpar second-liner.” He just hasn’t put it all together yet — and time is running out for him to do that. That postseason didn’t help Nylander’s case, either, as he started those games on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane but ended it as a healthy scratch.
There isn’t much more to be said about Nylander here that wasn’t detailed in this deep dive on Nylander from LBR in June. Next season seems vital for Nylander’s future in Chicago and perhaps his hockey career overall. Chicago had a slew of young forwards receive extended looks during the 2021 offseason and trades have brought in several other forwards who should vie for playing time in Adam Gaudette, Henrik Borgstrom, Tyler Johnson and more. There’s also a potential NHL debut for 2020 first-round pick Lukas Reichel after his impressive season overseas.
If Nylander doesn’t find a way to stand out in the upcoming season, it’s difficult to see how he lands another opportunity with the Blackhawks when he becomes a restricted free agent in 2022.