News broke this morning that the Chicago Blackhawks made a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The two players involved were Sam Lafferty and Alexander Nylander. Lafferty is a depth, role player that can take some penalty kill time and play a physical game. On the flip side, Nylander was developed poorly by the Blackhawks. In 2019, the Blackhawks thought they had found a gem from the Buffalo Sabres. However, the Alex Nylander trade glaringly shows how he was not a valuable asset to the Blackhawks.
Alex Nylander Trade Comes at the Right Time
Blackhawks Acquire Nylander
Think back to 2019. The Blackhawks had just finished an 82 game season, well out of playoff contention. A 36-34-12 record left them with 84 points, barely second-to-last in the Central division. Over the summer, they looked to add some younger players to kickstart their struggling team. Enter Alex Nylander and the Buffalo Sabres. Chicago sent Henri Jokiharju to Buffalo in a one-for-one trade. Jokiharju was the Blackhawks’ first-round pick back in the 2017 draft.
In the 2018-19 season, Nylander played 12 games for the Sabres, collecting four points, evenly split between goals and assists. He averaged about 12 minutes of ice time per game. In that same season, Jokiharju (as a rookie defenceman) played 38 games, collecting 12 points, all assists. He averaged one second under 19 minutes of ice time per game. There’s a clear difference in those scoresheets, and it brings into question the thinking behind the trade.
Nylander’s Time In Chicago
While Jokiharju didn’t exactly become a superstar in Buffalo, Nylander didn’t pan out in Chicago either. In his first season in the Windy City, he played 65 games. In those contests, he totalled 65 points in the form of 10 goals and 16 assists. He did not register a point in eight playoff games that season. In the 2020-2021 season, he did not play in any professional hockey due to knee surgery. This season, he has not played in an NHL game and has spent all of the season so far with the Rockford Ice Hogs. In 23 games with the Ice Hogs, he’s scored eight times and tallied four assists to combine for 12 points. Not a great look for a player looking to return to an NHL lineup.
There’s something to be said about how Jeremy Colliton, the Blackhawks’ head coach at the time, used Nylander in the 2019-2020 season. Or, rather, how he didn’t use him. As previously mentioned, he only averaged around 12 minutes of ice time per game for the entire season. There were games where Nylander saw upwards of 15 minutes of action, but those were scattered throughout the season. After most 15+ minute nights, he would be limited to 10 minutes or less of ice time the next game. Especially as the season wore on, those high minute games became more and more scarce. In his last 27 games, he saw just two games with over 14 minutes of ice time, and 11 games with under 10 minutes of ice time.
Change Of Scenery
There is something to be said when a struggling player goes to a new team with a new system, a new coach, and new teammates. For some players, they break out and break through their ceiling. Just look at when the Blackhawks traded Artemi Panarin, or when they traded Teuvo Teravinen, or when they…okay, the point has been made. However, Nylander has not been the same since he got hurt in December of 2020. He has yet to play an NHL game since then, and moving to an even better team will not help his chances. The Penguins are in a wild card spot and fourth in the Metropolitan division and look to climb up the rankings. That being said, the Blackhawks are rich in bottom-six forwards. So, Nylander likely never would have found his way back in the locker room without a miracle or injuries to starting players.
Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, they sent away a first-round draft pick for a player that never found his groove in Chicago. That leap of faith in 2019 never really came to fruition. He may find another chance in Pittsburgh, but it is unlikely he sees significant NHL play time again. The Blackhawks hope the Alex Nylander trade will work out better than the original one back in 2019.