Buffalo Sabres Should Take A Chance With Alexander Nylander

The Buffalo Sabres used the 8th pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft to get him; maybe it’s time to use him in the big leagues!

The Buffalo Sabres should give Alexander Nylander a few games in the NHL in 2017.

There – I said it, and got it out of the way.  You know how sometimes you want to take a while and build up to your conclusion?  This ain’t one of those times.

When the 2016 World Juniors is finished, the Sabres should reward Nylander with a spot on the roster, even if it is just for a few games.  End of story.

I think we all know that Nylander is not quite ready for the NHL yet – through 29 games in the AHL, he has a stat line of 5-12-17 with a -11 rating, so he is not exactly lighting that league on fire – but the Buffalo Sabres are an absolute tire fire right now.  Why not

A. Reward the kid for a great showing at the WJU20s (more on his performance in a sec); and

B. Start preparing for a life without some of the dead weight that won’t be on the Sabres roster next year, any way?

The NHL is experiencing an insane youth movement right now – the NHL’s top 30 scorers is chock full o’ players 25 and under, with not one, not two, but three teenagers who already have scored 30 points or more: Auston Matthews (18-12-30), Patrick Laine (19-11-30), and Connor McDavid (13-29-42).  There isn’t a Buffalo Sabres player in the league’s top 50 scorers, so it’s time to admit that this current roster isn’t getting it done.  (Please don’t start whining about injuries, as if the Buffalo Sabres are the only team to get them.  Besides, even when healthy, this team is still one of the ten-worst in the NHL.)  No time like the present, then, to stop using prospects as injury replacements and start using them on a long-term basis.  We’re not advocating a fire sale, but a shake up that leads to a wake up call for many players is just what the doctor ordered.

Clearly, Jack Eichel is not happy with his team’s play (I’m sure his own inconsistent play is part of the reason for his outburst following Buffalo’s loss in Boston on Saturday, but you know it’s just that: a part of the reason), nor is captain Brian Gionta, who had this to say following yet another one-goal performance by the listless Sabres (courtesy of The Buffalo News):

Guys need to understand where we are in the season, where we are in the standings.  We need to start making a move now. We can’t continue to wait. We said before Christmas was a big week and we blew it and again this week we had two huge games coming in against these guys for that final divisional playoff spot so it’s disappointing. . . We have to be better in this room, plain and simple.  It’s on the guys in this room to be better.

Though I never thought this Sabres roster was good enough to actually qualify for the playoffs, I remember predicting that this team would at least be fighting for the 9th or 10th spot in the Eastern Conference.  GM Tim Murray has not built a playoff-ready roster yet, but there is no reason why this team should be dead last in the Eastern Conference and 28th overall in the league.  And while coach Dan Bylsma deserves some criticism for his incessant tinkering with his line combinations and asking his players to play a style of hockey that doesn’t appear to fit their skill set, let’s be honest: the players on the Sabres roster right now range from “Don’t deserve to be in the NHL” (ahem, Derek Grant) to varying levels of “Underachieving.”

So what are the Buffalo Sabres to do?  Bringing up players such as Nicholas Baptiste and Justin Bailey is a step in the right direction, but I would also argue that Nylander has earned a chance to prove himself on this team, as well.  He currently leads all players in scoring at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championships with 11 points, and you know that bringing a young kid like Nylander up and either sitting or sending a player such as Grant back down to the AHL will send a message to the rest of the players in the locker room.  Again, there’s no way Nylander is NHL-ready like Auston Matthews or Patrick Laine, and there’s a huge difference between shredding players 20-and-under and making plays against men in the NHL – but dammit, the Sabres suck.   Calling up Nylander might light a competitive spark under the asses of a few players, and who knows?  Maybe the kid gives the Sabres 2-3 good outings before being sent back down to Rochester, something the team (and Nylander himself) can build upon.

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Very little is going right for the Buffalo Sabres right now, and let’s face it: Alexander Nylander is not going to save this team’s 2016-17 by himself.  Still, he’s playing well and is full of confidence, and will give fans reasons to keep attending Sabres home games.  He will also remind a locker room full of players who started the season talking about making the playoffs that they are not living up to expectations, and that their time on this roster may be short-lived.  Either way, there’s no reason to stick with what isn’t working, so bringing Nylander up to see what he’s got is a no-brainer right now.

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