CHICAGO – The Blackhawks are taking a chance on another underachieving young forward.
They hope it goes the same way it did last time.
The Hawks traded promising defenseman Henri Jokiharju to Buffalo on Tuesday for Alex Nylander, who hasn’t quite lived up to expectations since he was selected by the Sabres with the eighth overall pick in the 2016 draft.
“Buffalo, that kind of stuff, that’s in the past. Obviously thought maybe I would be in the NHL sooner than I have been, but I’m just really excited, looking forward to being part of the Blackhawks organization,” Nylander said. “Really good with development players, so they actually know what they’re doing.”
The 21-year-old Nylander made his NHL debut with Buffalo in April 2017, but he had only three goals and three assists in 19 games with the Sabres. He has had some trouble with injuries and inconsistency.
The Hawks missed the playoffs last season for the second straight year, but one of the bright spots was a trade for Dylan Strome in November. The 22-year-old Strome had struggled since he was drafted by Arizona with the No. 3 pick in 2015, but he broke out with the Hawks, collecting 17 goals and 34 assists in 58 games.
Strome benefited from playing with former juniors teammate Alex DeBrincat. But if Nylander follows a similar path, he could provide another versatile scoring option for the Hawks’ potent lines.
Nylander “is one of those players, there’s not a lot of them that have the ability to create opportunities out of nothing,” Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said. “He can dance around the offensive zone with the puck and make those high-end plays, which are hard to do.
“Sometimes with players of that style, I think being able to do it all the time is something that takes a little bit of time to learn.”
Nylander had two goals and two assists in 12 games with Buffalo last season. He also had 12 goals and 19 assists in 49 games with Rochester of the American Hockey League.
Nylander’s father, Michael, played for the Hawks from 1999 to 2002.
Jokiharju, the No. 29 selection in the 2017 draft, made his NHL debut in October and finished with no goals and 12 assists in 38 games in his first season with the Hawks. He also helped Finland to its fifth world junior hockey title in January.
Parting with the 20-year-old Jokiharju is a tough price to pay for the Hawks, but they traded for defensemen Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan in June. Bowman also said the organization is pleased with the progression of prospects Adam Boqvist and Ian Mitchell.
“We feel like we have built up a good stable of young players and now we have the ability to make a move like this,” Bowman said. “It’s not easy to acquire talented players like Alex.”