The Blackhawks are a team that likes to take chances on young players who were highly regarded coming out of their draft but have underachieved to start their professional careers.
Take Brendan Perlini and Dylan Strome for example. Both of them are former first-round picks, with Strome being drafted No. 3 overall in 2015.
Alex Nylander is somebody who falls under this category. Taken No. 8 overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2016, he put up decent numbers in the AHL but couldn’t take that next step in the NHL and hasn’t been able to stick. He's trying to change that in Chicago after being acquired by the organization in the summer for Henri Jokiharju.
"I'm just trying to work hard every shift, be consistent out there and just play my game," Nylander said. "Make plays and be good defensively as well."
Nylander has been a standout in Blackhawks training camp so far. He shined in Sunday’s team scrimmage at the United Center by scoring a highlight-reel penalty shot goal and followed that up with a multi-point effort in his preseason debut on Monday, scoring a goal and adding an assist against Washington.
It's the consistency and how he plays when he doesn't have the puck that's going to determine whether he sticks with the big club and ultimately thrives.
"I just think learning how to play at a higher pace away from the puck," Jeremy Colliton said. "He is a good skater. He can fly. You can see when he's hunting, he's on offense, he can really skate. We're going to want him to show us that persistence away from the puck to try and get it back. Obviously when his teammates have the puck (or) when he has the puck — when he's on offense — he's a terrific player. He can be a real asset for us. So we want him to put himself in those situations as much as he can."
There are legitimately eight or nine forwards that are competing for the two or three roster spots on Opening Night. Nylander is one of them. He has such an elite offensive skillset that it's hard to ignore him for one of them, and he's probably better off playing with guys who think the game the same way.
"He can make a lot of plays and he can see the ice as offensive players do," Colliton said. "He's got a great shot, great release. ... Having said that, for him, the more versatile he can show that he can be then it gives us more options and different places to fit him into the lineup. It's a lot easier to make the team. So he'll probably move around here as we go through preseason and see if there's a fit."
While Nylander, in the big picture, is simply competing for a spot on the 23-man roster, he also finds himself battling for a role within the team in the process. But he's not looking that far ahead.
"I'm just trying to do my best out here and take whatever is given to me," Nylander said. "Just do good, play my game and good things will happen I think. I've just been working really hard this summer and I'm trying to take that with me from the past three years in Buffalo and try to be the best player I can be.”