When forward Alex Nylander came to the Blackhawks last offseason in a trade that sent Henri Jokiharju — a young and promising defenseman for Chicago — to the Buffalo Sabres, Blackhawks fans and media were left scratching their heads.
Then, Nylander scored the Hawks' first goal of the season in their first game of the 2019-20 campaign against the Philadelphia Flyers in Prague.
Throughout the season the winger would show flashes of offensive brilliance that occasionally earned him ice time among the Blackhawks' top forwards like Patrick Kane.
But as soon as we would feel remorse for doubting the trade and his abilities, Nylander would cough up the puck or hesitate in the midst of a quality scoring chance immediately after.
The 22-year-old is using the NHL's Return To Play program as an opportunity to show growth and dependability in his game.
Nylander was one of few Hawks that regularly participated in Phase 2's small group voluntary workouts. Teammates are already noticing his game in Phase 3's training camp, which began on Monday.
"Nylander, I thought, looked really good. He’s quick, he’s firing the puck and he’s a lot of fun to play with," Hawks forward Dylan Strome said after Day 2's practice.
When asked about Strome's comments on Wednesday, Alex said he's confident in how he's performed in camp, but wants to reach another level for the Blackhawks' big postseason opportunity.
"I feel pretty good right now, been getting those skates in before in Phase 2 which was huge. I feel really good here in camp, but I want to be prepared because this is obviously going to be my first playoffs," Nylander said. "Like Stromer said, I started playing really well at the end of the season, especially with Stromer and Kane, good chemistry and stuff like that and kind of building on that and keep it going for the playoffs, it's going to be huge."
The Blackhawks will be playing the Oilers in a best-of-five play-in series for this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs on Aug. 1 in Edmonton. Before the qualifying round starts, the Hawks will take on the St. Louis Blues July 29 in an exhibition game.
"We have huge games there obviously and we just need to be as ready as possible," Nylander said. "It was nice to get to know (teammates) and play with them in Phase 2, so we got to know each other better off the ice and on the ice, so just keep carrying it on every day in training camp and working hard and we'll be ready for the playoffs."
Nylander had 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists) in 65 games with the Hawks before the NHL paused on March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.