The second scion of the hockey's famous Nylander family steps in for the Pens.
Alexander "Alex" Nylander is a 25-year-old Swedish-Canadian winger who has played within the Penguins' organization for two seasons. Born on March 2, 1998, in Calgary, Canada, Nylander grew up in a family of famous hockey players. His father, Michael Nylander, played in the NHL for 15 seasons and his older brother, William Nylander, is a star forward for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Alex Nylander began his hockey career with the Chicago Mission youth program in Chicago while his father Michael played for the NHL's Blackhawks. He made the leap to under-16 and under-18 level hockey overseas in his family's homeland of Sweden in 2013 playing for noted clubs like Sodertalje and AIK. He quickly made a name for himself as a skilled and inventive forward, which drew the attention of the Swedish national team which recruited Nylander to represent the nation in international competition that same year. He was one of the top 10 point scorers in the World U-17 Hockey Challenge in 2014 with two goals and five assists in six games played. His performance helped propel Sweden to the bronze medal.
In his prolific Swedish national team career, Nylander would go on to win numerous medals including silvers at the 2015 Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament, the 2016 U18 World Junior Championship, and the 2018 World Junior Championships.
Nylander elected to play in North America during his draft year joining the OHL's Mississauga Steelheads where he scored 28 goals, 47 assists, for 74 points in 58 games played. He followed up that strong regular season campaign by producing six goals and six assists in six playoff games for Mississauga, a two-point per-game pace.
That outstanding run sent his pre-draft stock surging and in June 2016 he was selected eighth overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft. Nylander made his NHL debut with the Sabres in the 2016-2017 season and played in 28 games, scoring four goals and five assists. The following year, he split his time between the Sabres and their AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans, as he battled through injuries. He was then traded to his father's old team the Chicago Blackhawks in July 2019.
He’s a creative forward with speed, good hands, and exceptional puck skills. His scoring touch has been evident at every level he's played at.
During his time with the Blackhawks, Nylander showed flashes of his potential as a top-six forward, but has also struggled with consistency and continuing injury issues. In the 2019-2020 season, he spent nearly a complete season at the NHL level scoring 10 goals and 16 assists in 65 games played. He also made his Stanley Cup playoff debut dressing for eight games before being sidelined by a knee injury. The rehabilitation for that ailment cost Nylander the entirety of the 2020-21 season and the beginning of 2021-22. During that time, the Blackhawks began shifting their organization to a rebuilding phase and subsequently traded Alex Nylander to the Penguins on January 5, 2022.
With a new franchise and finally healthy, Nylander went to work reestablishing his game in the minor leagues. He scored 22 goals, 20 assists, and 42 points in the AHL in 2021-22. He then followed that up with a point-per-game performance in the playoffs. The next year he continued to torrent pace in the minors, producing 25 goals and 25 assists in 54 games with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Nylander waited patiently for over a full season with the Pens before finally getting called up to make his NHL debut on March 7, 2023, against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He began the game skating on the fourth line but showed so well that he was promoted on-the-fly to play alongside Evgeni Malkin and Jason Zucker on the second. There he scored his first point as a Pittsburgh Penguin in his debut game, a secondary assist on a goal by Zucker. It helped power the Pens to a 5-4 win.
Despite his ups and downs in the NHL, Nylander is still a young player with dynamic talent whose main flaws have been a terrible string of luck with his prior clubs. Now at full health and playing with the high-end talents of the Penguins' he may turn out to be another diamond mined from the rough for Pittsburgh.
Ultimately, Nylander has shown the potential to be a significant contributor in the NHL. He’s a creative forward with speed, good hands, and exceptional puck skills. His scoring touch has been evident at every level he's played at. With his tremendous talent, hockey sense, and passion for the game, Nylander is a strong bet to pay off for the Penguins.