Alex Nylander

Why Blackhawks' Alex Nylander is standing out in Phase 3 training camp

Why Blackhawks' Alex Nylander is standing out in Phase 3 training camp

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. 

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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.

Related: Why Blackhawks' Phase 3 training camp has had an extra intensity

"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.

Blackhawks' Alex Nylander and brother William providing meals for essential workers

Blackhawks' Alex Nylander and brother William providing meals for essential workers

During this time of a global pandemic where healthcare workers risk their well-being to keep us safe, and essential works do the same to keep business operating, many teams and athletes have stepped up to do their part and assist their local heroes. Count the Nylander brothers, Alex of the Blackhawks and William of the Maple Leafs, as the latest to chip in for the cause.

Alex and William have partnered up with local restaurants of Stockholm and Toronto to help feed frontline workers and those in need.

“We have partnered with some of our favorite restaurants so that healthy meals can be prepared and delivered to frontline heroes and others in need,” said William. “In Chicago, we are supporting local food banks," added Alex.

As Alex and William both prepare for the NHL’s postseason, the brothers hope to continue to provide and deliver meals to frontline workers and those in need while bringing awareness to COVID-19 in the process.

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Blackhawks 2019-20 season in review: Alex Nylander

Blackhawks 2019-20 season in review: Alex Nylander

The NHL put its 2019-20 season on pause March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but remains hopeful to award the Stanley Cup at some point. Although it's unclear if or when it could return, NBC Sports Chicago will recap the season of each Blackhawks player to date in our "season in review" series. Next up is Alex Nylander.

Alex Nylander was acquired by the Blackhawks in the offseason for defenseman prospect Henri Jokiharju, who had quickly earned Joel Quenneville's trust during the 2018-19 season and spent much of his playing time on the first pairing with two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith. Because of that, Nylander was under a microscope all season long by the Chicago fanbase — fair or not.

While he scored in his season debut as the top-line left winger alongside Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, Nylander struggled to find a consistent spot in the lineup and at times was a healthy scratch. Consistency has really been the biggest challenge for him ever since he turned pro.

Nylander's best stretch of the season came in the final five games of March before the season was suspended when he averaged a point per game with two goals and three assists on top of a plus-4 rating. 

The offensive upside is certainly evident with Nylander, who's a fun player to watch in practice. He can stickhandle, he can dangle, he can shoot. But putting the whole package together in a game, which includes playing with more energy without the puck, is something that's a work in progress.

"He's still in the developing phase," GM Stan Bowman said in February. "He's proven that he's an NHL player. ... He started the year higher up in the lineup, which maybe didn't serve him as well because you put a lot of pressure on yourself to score when you're up playing with productive players and you want to be a productive player. Tactically, when he's down the lineup, now it's like a progression.

"If you can nail that down to be someone that the coach can trust to use, then you would like him to find his offensive skillset, he's got the ability to make plays and buy time and space with the puck and he can shoot the puck. We've seen flashes of it but it's not the full picture yet, so hopefully we can see him build on becoming not just an NHL player but an offensive NHL player. That's what we'd like him to take that next step at some point."

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