Alexander Nylander couldn’t wait to play with his older brother William Nylander at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland.
“That would be an unbelievable experience,” Alexander Nylander said in September, ahead of the winter tournament. “I don’t think I’ve ever played with my brother on a team. … To be able to play with my brother would be just amazing. It’s something I dream of, actually.”
Unfortunately their time on the ice together was limited to less than one game after William sustained a head injury in Sweden’s tournament-opening 8-3 win against Switzerland on Dec. 26 and had to miss the rest of the WJC.
“We got to play a couple of shifts together and we scored a goal together; that was a great moment,” Alexander Nylander said.
The experience was short-lived, but it gave Alexander Nylander a chance to step up in his brother’s absence to not only help Sweden reach the semifinals, but also strengthen his stock ahead of the 2016 NHL Draft, to be held June 24-25 at First Niagara Center in Buffalo.
Nylander, a 6-foot, 179-pound forward, scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory against the United States in the next preliminary-round game, Dec. 28. Sweden went 4-0 during the group stage, including a 5-2 win against defending WJC champion Canada, to advance to the medal round. Sweden defeated Slovakia 6-0 in the quarterfinals Jan. 2 but lost to eventual champion Finland 2-1 in the semifinals two days later.
Up next was a rematch with the United States on Jan. 5 for the bronze medal. The U.S. won 8-3. Nylander had a goal disallowed in the second period because of a high stick.
He finished the tournament with four goals, five assists and a plus-5 rating in seven games. Nylander led Sweden with nine points and was tied for sixth in scoring in the tournament.
“I think I had a great tournament,” he said. “Of course we were going for gold but unfortunately we came up short. I was just thinking about playing my game each and every game. I’m sure having William would have helped but I just tried to be the best player I can and help the team as best as possible.”
His performance didn’t go unnoticed.
“He had a very effective World Juniors where he was able to elevate his game and separate himself from some of his peers, thus solidifying himself as one of the top players for the upcoming draft,” NHL Central Scouting’s Matt Ryan said.
Even though Nylander wasn’t able to play as much as he would have liked with his brother at the WJC, he has learned immensely from William and their father, Michael Nylander, who had had 209 goals and 679 points in 920 NHL games in 15 seasons with eight teams. William Nylander was selected eighth by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2014 draft.
“It’s helped growing up in a hockey family where I can get a lot of advice from my brother and father,” Alexander Nylander said. “It’s a lot of fun being able to get advice on how to improve my game and having them support me.”
When the tournament ended he returned to Mississauga of the Ontario Hockey League, where he has starred this season. Entering Wednesday, Nylander led OHL rookies in goals (22), assists, (28) and points (50) in 34 games.
Michael Nylander is in his first year as an assistant coach with Mississauga and remains a major influence on his son.
“He has seen me train in the summer and he sees what it takes to try and get to be an NHL player,”Michael Nylander said. “As he got older he started training with me and William. I think that was a good learning process for him. He has seen lots of hockey and probably sees things I miss and vice-versa. He’s learned a lot from just watching games.”
Alexander Nylander received an A rating from NHL Central Scouting in its November player to watch list. He also was one of 40 players invited to the 2016 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game Jan. 28 in Vancouver. He’ll play for Team Orr.
“Alex possesses an elite skill set coupled with the hockey awareness and positional play to create space for himself in the offensive zone,” Mississauga coach James Boyd said. “He brings energy and scoring to our team. He has the ability to make plays that other players cannot.”
Nylander said he classifies himself as a playmaker who likes to have the puck on his stick. He said his strengths are his vision, skating, shooting and puck handling, yet he believes he still can fine-tune everything on and off the ice.
“I just try to be as good as possible each and every game and work hard,” he said.