After missing the 2020-21 season with a knee injury, Alex Nylander is ready to go and gearing up for training camp in September after signing a one-year extension with the Blackhawks on Monday.
In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Chicago, Nylander opened up about his meniscus injury, the rehab process, his mindset going into the camp and more.
Here is the full transcript from the Q&A, which has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity:
First off, congratulations on the extension. How are you feeling and how's your rehab going?
It's been going great. Obviously it took a long time. I've never been through something like this, so it was a little bit different, but I feel really good. I'm back on the ice just like normal and doing everything I did before, so I'm really happy and excited. It feels great to be back on the ice and doing the thing that I love most.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the injury happened against Vegas in the bubble. Do you remember the specific play or incident?
To be honest, I actually don't know how I got my injury. I don't remember a hit or anything in the knee. I just had symptoms and stuff, but then I felt good and everything. But I don't remember a certain play or anything that happened, it's kind of weird how I got this injury, but it is what it is and now we're back.
Do you know for sure if it happened in the Vegas series or was it before and you just didn't realize it until the Vegas series?
Yeah, it could've been something like that. That's what I would actually love to know: when it happened. But I don't know, it's hard for me to answer that question. But it happened somewhere in the bubble.
Walk me through the process of deciding after the season whether to rest it or elect for surgery right away. What were the conversations like with the doctors and what did you want to do as a player?
Well I was getting ready for the season and I was feeling good, and I was talking to the doctors and there came a point where I started feeling it more. Honestly, I didn't know before the surgery if it was going to be the long one or the short one, but we all said it was best for my future career and the best way to go is the longer route. The doctor decides that when he goes into the knee and he said that's what he saw was best for me and how it looks, so he saved my meniscus.
Obviously, it sucks that I was out for that long period, but it happens in the sport and now I'm ready and back and it feels great, so I'm just very happy about that. The rehab has been really good.
So you feel back to 100 percent and you expect to be ready for training camp in September?
Yeah, yeah. That's no problem. I'm feeling really good now and skating just like normal, so I'll be back and no problem for training camp.
How tough was it for you, personally, to watch last season from afar, especially given the youth movement? I'm sure it would've been a good opportunity for you to showcase yourself with all the young players.
Yeah, of course. It's tough when that happens. It was my first time going into surgery, so I didn't know what to expect after. Obviously you want to be with the team and help them win. I saw a lot of games, we had a good season and you want to be out there and help them win those games.
It was a different aspect, but I was being able to see everything, I watched all the games and I think I learned some things coming out of this injury, so I feel like it could be good for me to use going into this season. It would've been a lot of fun playing with those young guys this year, but I'm just excited to be back and ready for this season.
What was your communication level like with the team while you were rehabbing? Were you part of the meetings, etc. or were you in your own world rehabbing?
At the beginning, it was just focusing on the rehab and get the first six weeks when I was in the crutch and get out of the crutch and start focusing on getting better, walking and stuff like that.
And then after that, I was in some of the meetings with the team, see what they were up to so I was up to date, and obviously had talks with Coach Jeremy [Colliton] and he would just show me things that they had been working on and looking at my game to see what I can improve on, so we had a lot of good talks throughout the time last season. That actually helped me a lot and now I know the new stuff we have for next season and even for me to get better as a player as well.
When you look at the roster moves that the Blackhawks made this offseason, it's obviously a crowded group up front. What's your mindset going into camp?
I'm going to go in like I have another training camp and be ready, be ready 100 percent and be confident. I know we made a lot of trades and all that stuff. We've got a lot of really good depth, we've got a good team now. It's obviously a lot of new faces, for me even, because I missed last year and we had some new faces.
I think it could be a really good group. It's going to be very exciting and I'm just going to go in with the mentality that I want to be where I know I can be on the team and battle and help the team win. Obviously it's going to be a little bit different coming off an injury, but I don't think that's going to be a huge difference. I feel really good on the ice now. I'm just excited and happy to be back with the guys and show them what I could do.
Blackhawks President/GM Stan Bowman said in the press release that this upcoming season is going to be an important one for you "to perform consistently and contribute offensively." How important do you feel that's going to be for you personally?
Oh, yeah. I think that's going to be huge for me. I know what I can do and I know I have to perform consistently and be there every day and work every night, every shift. That's stuff I know I need to do and I can do. When I move my feet and create stuff out there, I know good stuff will happen. I know it's a big season for me and I need to prove a lot.
Last one for you: Any personal goals for you this season, specifically?
Obviously you have goals going into the season, you want to be contributing every night offensively but also good in your own end and be the guy that can be a difference-maker. Obviously you have goals as points and stuff like that that I want to do and I know I can achieve if I do the things that I've been working on through the summer and through the season, and be ready every night and the points will come. You want to be one of the top scorers on the team.