ANAHEIM, Calif. — Blackhawks wing Alex Nylander simultaneously showed his talent and inexperience Saturday against the Kings, outracing everyone on an overtime breakaway but squandering it with an ill-advised pass.
It was a learning experience for Nylander, but it was also the first ‘‘Nylander groan’’ — which was practically a trademarked phrase during his three seasons with the Sabres — in weeks.
That alone is a statement about Nylander’s progress.
‘‘I like his play a lot fairly consistently,’’ coach Jeremy Colliton said Sunday. ‘‘First couple of games of the year weren’t as good, but I think he’s been excellent night in, night out. He’s a young player. There are always going to be hiccups here and there, but his work ethic away from the puck is fantastic.’’
Some of those words — ‘‘consistently’’ and ‘‘work ethic’’ among them — haven’t been used to describe Nylander in several years. The No. 8 overall pick of the 2016 draft came over from the Sabres with as bad a reputation as a 21-year-old can have. But the Hawks have provided him with a clean slate.
And that seems to be exactly what he needed.
‘‘I feel really comfortable out there,’’ Nylander said. ‘‘It’s my first time making it from training camp, so I’m really happy. Being part of this organization has been really good for me, and I just need to keep working hard every day here and good things will happen.’’
The Hawks initially tried to make an instant superstar out of Nylander, slotting him alongside attention magnets Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to start the regular season. That didn’t work out, and Nylander promptly was scratched for the third game of the season.
Since then, however, he has been one of the Hawks’ few consistent forwards through their early-season turbulence.
Nylander has recorded a positive Corsi rating — he had been on the ice for more Hawks shots than opponents’ shots — in six of his last eight games, even though the team has struggled mightily in that regard. That’s a strong indication of his improved play away from the puck.
And his seven points, while not exactly jaw-dropping, are tied for third on the Hawks. He came close to getting another point on that overtime breakaway against the Kings, but he said the puck rolled on him, disrupting his attempted pass to Alex DeBrincat.
‘‘Whoever I’m with, I’m just trying to play my game and be aware in the ‘D’ zone and obviously make the plays that are there in the offensive zone,’’ he said.
Nylander played his 12th game in a Hawks sweater against the Ducks, matching his longest NHL stint in his career to date. He looked fantastic on his line with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad, too, recording the primary assist on Adam Boqvist’s goal and tallying a game-high seven shots on goal.
At long last, he appears to have grown into a permanent NHL player. He’s not a game-changing playmaker — not yet, at least — but he’s a reliable offensive weapon.
Colliton has noticed that, even if the rest of the NHL seemingly hasn’t. After Nylander’s first few games, Colliton sat down with him and watched video of every one of his shifts, giving him thorough feedback. He still does that occasionally now, but ‘‘not as much as before because I’ve been playing good,’’ Nylander said.
Had it not been for that trust, Colliton wouldn’t have used Nylander in overtime at all Saturday. So his gaffe can be seen as just another indication of his progress.
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