Maple Leafs fans could see even more Nylander


Alex Nylander has committed to join the Mississauga Steelheads. (Dennis Pajot/Getty)

By virtue of the spotlight cast on his brother, Alexander Nylander is bound to be one of the most closely watched players eligible for the 2016 NHL entry draft. The watch is beginning in earnest this week at the Ivan Hlinka summer tournament in Bratislava and Breclav.

Nylander is the son of former NHL veteran Michael and little brother of William, Toronto’s first-round pick, eighth overall in the 2014 draft. There’s no problem for Alexander getting his name out there, maybe a bit of an issue making a name for himself, especially if William steps up into the Leafs’ lineup this fall and starts answering Toronto fans’ prayers.

Alexander might find it even tougher to develop his own identity given that he may just land with the Mississauga Steelheads, the team that drafted him 12th overall in the CHL Import Draft. After racking up 15 goals and 25 assists in 42 games on right wing with AIK’s under-20 team last season, the younger brother could make a move that his older brother balked at this time last year—a different situation given that William was coming out of his draft season and Alexander is going into his. Timing is everything.

We’re only in mid-August but already the comparisons are starting. Talking to scouts working the Hlinka tournament, they inevitably use William as a measuring stick for Alexander.

“Skilled like his big brother, shows a lot on the perimeter on the big ice,” one scout said of Nylander the younger.

“Skates like William, same sort of size at the same stage, not physically mature, ” another said.

Two scouts I talked to framed it the same way: “Not as flamboyant as his brother,” they said.

That might be a comment on William even more than his little draft-eligible brother. “Flamboyant” isn’t a word that comes in many scouting reports.

According to those at the tournament, Alexander was the best skater on the ice in any given shift he played in Sweden’s opening 4-3 victory over Switzerland, picking up a goal and assist. The Swedes hit a wall in their second game—Canada dominated play but barely escaped with a 2-0 win, a goal 12 minutes in by Nylander’s future Mississauga teammate Mike McLeod being the real margin of victory, a last-minute empty-net goal by William Bitten making the final score seem a little more definitive than the run of play.

The one Swedish player who impressed in the loss to Canada was goaltender Filip Gustavsson, turning aside 36 of 37 shots including a whack of five-star chances for an insurance goal from the second period on. Said one scout: “He’s your basic blocking goaltender and he has pretty good pro size at six-foot-two or six-three. He was lights out versus Canada, though. Two days in, I haven’t seen all the goalies here yet but he’s the best so far.” That would be strictly to form: Gustavsson, who plays in the Lulea organization, was the named to the all-tournament team at last season’s under-17 Challenge.

One other Swede who caught scouts’ notice in the opening two games at the Hlinka is Linus Weissbach, a winger who might command more attention but for size. “He’s listed at five-nine and 154, but he looks even smaller out there,” one scout says of Weissbach who divided time between Frolunda’s under-18 and U20 teams last season. “He’s offensive-minded—he wants the puck, wants to make plays with it [and is] quick and skilled enough to make things happen. And he’s pretty conscientious about playing in his own end of the ice. I’m sure that [scouts] are going to keep coming back to his size but that’s really the only hanging point that holds him back from being in the elite.”

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