Friday’s Military Appreciation Night clash against the Wolf Pack marked the second consecutive impressive home victory for the Amerks. Though the headlines going in were all about the return of Evan Rodrigues and Alexander Nylander, CJ smith stole the show with a massive night featuring two goals and two assists. Blackwell also impressed for the second game in a row notching a pair of assists himself to go along with a +3 rating.
Still, for many the most exciting moment of the night remained the return to action of Alexander Nylander. Although he looked to be shaking off some rust on his first couple shifts, Nylander did look amazing. He was able to showcase his lightning quick skating, supreme confidence on the puck, and deadly shot. After watching him play, it was clear that he was the most talented player on the ice. I’m going to rate his performance a B+.
Offensively, Nylander played very well, but I was bit disappointed his line featuring Rodrigues and Baptiste could not register a full strength goal. They did muster a few dangerous chances including a shot from Nylander in the slot that rung of the top corner in the first period. I was most impressed with Nylander on the power play. As in the past, he looked phenomenal in the role of point forward. The speed and vision he showcased while whipping pucks around the zone was exactly what this Amerk’s power-play has been missing. It was a beautifully strung together combination of quick passes that spread Hartford out to create the chance for CJ Smith to score his second goal of the night. The only thing I worry about with Nylander is his ability to create when he doesn’t have much space. He took a couple big hits, and had a several turnovers behind the enemy net that looked to come purely from a desire to avoid punishment on the boards. Though he is still extremely creative, I worry that his toughness, or lack there of, could negatively effect his decision making in certain situations, #PleaseDontHitMeTurnover.
Defensively, Nylander did not make much of an impact at full strength. I was impressed with what he was able to do when called upon as a point forward though. He made a couple very nice plays under pressure to keep the puck in the zone, and looked comfortable defending the counter attack. He was called for a slashing minor trying to poke away the puck as a Wolf pack forward tried to skate the puck out of the zone, but it was a terrible call and I saw no wrongdoing.
Overall, it’s only a mater of time before Nylander leaves Rochester for a permanent spot in Buffalo. I would not be at all surprised if that happens at some point this year. I think he possess elite playmaking ability, even at the NHL level. If he can become more accurate with that deadly wrister, Nylander has the potential to be something really special.