Nylander decent, not great, in season debut for Amerks
We learned something very important about Alex Nylander on Friday night.
Not that he has some pretty slick moves when he’s attacking one-on-one. We knew that. And not that he has pretty good vision when he’s passing the puck on the power play. We knew that, too.
What we found out was that he can take a hit and get right back up.
Nylander made his season debut on Friday night with the Rochester Americans, playing the left wing on a line with center Evan Rodrigues and right winger Nick Baptiste, as the Amerks stayed hot by defeating the Hartford Wolf Pack 4-2.
“I liked him one-on-one, he took a couple guys inside out,” Taylor said. “He’s dynamic, but he has a lot of things to clean up.”
Rodrigues was also making his season debut, recovering from a hand or wrist injury that he suffered with the Buffalo Sabres in the preseason.
Nylander was out even longer. He was hurt in the opening game of the Prospects Challenge and didn’t start skating again until late October. On Sept. 9, the Sabres termed his absence from Game 2 of the Prospects Challenge as precautionary.
Who knows how long someone could miss when an injury is considered significant.
The Sabres first-round pick from 2016 was finally given clearance to return from his lower-body injury (speculation has been that it was a groin or hamstring) and was decent, but certainly not spectacular on Friday night.
“We didn’t want him to impress, we wanted him to start slow and get into things,” said Amerks coach Chris Taylor, whose team is on a roll (7-1-2 in the past 10, 9-4-1-1 overall).
The coaching staff reinforced that message by using the Nylander-Rodrigues-Baptiste trio as the third line.
“We wanted them to know they weren’t going to be relied on offensively,” Taylor said.
Nylander did assist on one goal, the eventual game-winner by C.J. Smith at 14:44 of the second period. Smith finished with two goals and two assists, and that second-period power-play goal came after Nylander took a cross-check on the right-wing half wall from defenseman Neal Pionk in order to make the pass.
But that wasn’t the hit he really felt. The big body check that laid him out came with just 3:28 left in the game, and with the Amerks leading 3-1. It was delivered by former Amerks and Sabres forward Dan Catenacci.
Nylander had started up the right wing in the Amerks zone and clearly saw Catenacci in the midst of about a 30-foot run at him. Nylander didn’t bail out of the way but instead followed through with the pass to safety out of the zone. He was then bowled over by the huge check.
The check itself appeared to be legal. Catenacci’s elbow and forearm struck Nylander in the helmet and visor area, but the arm was tight to Catenacci’s body.
The illegal part: the length of his run. He was assessed a charging minor. Arvin Atwal immediately jumped Catenacci and threw a flurry of punches. He was ejected for instigating a fight in the final five minutes and will be suspended one game while Taylor will be fined $500.
Taylor liked what he saw from Atwal. “We’re a family in there and no one hits one of our family members,” Taylor said.
He also liked what he saw from Nylander.
“He wanted to make a play and for him it’s a learning experience,” Taylor said. “He could have bailed on it and he might not have got the puck out. But he took a big hit and made the play.”
Said Nylander: “I sort of didn’t know what to do when I saw him coming.”
After he picked himself up and waited for the fight to end, he skated to the penalty box to clearly say “thanks” to Atwal.
For his first game, he was satisfied. He certainly wanted to be back on the ice sooner, but understands the healing process.
“I was telling them I was ready to go but you’d rather be safe than sorry,” Nylander said. “I felt good finally getting back on the ice with my teammates and getting a huge win.”