NHL debut, family in arena a thrill for Sabres' Nylander

Author: John Vogl, Buffalonews.com
Date: Apr 5, 2017

Alex Nylander had a feeling the moment was coming. But to make his NHL debut against his brother with his whole family in the stands?

It adds another level of excitement.

“It’s kind of crazy that I’m going to play against my brother in my first game,” Nylander said Monday. “I’m just super excited and very pumped for tonight.”

Nylander and the Sabres will host William Nylander and the Toronto Maple Leafs in KeyBank Center. Buffalo’s Nylander will play for the first time after being selected eighth overall in last year’s NHL Draft. The right winger will start alongside center Evan Rodrigues and left wing Marcus Foligno.

“The opportunity to play against his brother was a big motivator in giving him the opportunity today versus yesterday and Wednesday versus Montreal,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “There’s certainly some intrigue in seeing how he’s going to be able to do here with us at the NHL level.”

Nylander, who turned 19 last month, has had an up-and-down season as a teenager in the American Hockey League. He’s seventh in Rochester with nine goals, 18 assists and 27 points in 62 games. He has no goals and two assists in his last nine games. Prior to that, he had a run of four goals and five points in eight games. Before that, he went 21 games without a goal.

“It wasn’t really something I was thinking about,” he said of the production. “I was just thinking about working hard and playing my game, trying to get better off and on the ice every day.

“I think I’ve developed a lot in the AHL. They’ve helped me improve all areas of my game.”

The Sabres became enamored with Nylander after he put up 28 goals, 47 assists and 75 points in 62 games for Mississauga of the Ontario Hockey League, then followed it up with six goals and 12 points in six playoff games. Buffalo went into the draft looking at Nylander and two defensemen, and it opted for his skill.

“Alex is a talented, skilled player,” Bylsma said. “He’s got deception in his game both from his shot and his playmaking ability. I think there’s a good chance that you’ll see him maybe have a little more success than he’s maybe had so far this year in Rochester.”

The Sabres can only hope he has the same success as his brother. William Nylander could be a candidate for Rookie of the Year with 22 goals, 37 assists and 59 points in 76 games.

“We have a lot of similarities,” Alex Nylander said. “We’ve both got a good shot. We like to make plays, but I think he’s a little bit different skater than I am.”

The sons of longtime NHL forward Michael Nylander met during the preseason, but this is obviously different.

“It’s going to be very special today, too, since it’s a real game and my debut,” Alex Nylander said. “We always had competitions in everything we did. We’ve always had a winning culture. Sometimes some fights broke out, but at the end of the day we’re best friends.

“I’m just super excited. It’s a dream come true.”

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