BUFFALO – Four or five months ago, it appeared slick Sabres prospect Alexander Nylander’s second pro season would be a dud.
In rookie camp, Nylander suffered a lower-body injury, costing him more than two months. The former eighth overall pick struggled following his season debut in mid-November, mustering only one goal and four points in his first 12 AHL outings.
But Nylander, 20, started turning a miserable campaign around early in the winter. The winger thrived during his third appearance with Team Sweden at the World Junior Championship in Buffalo after Christmas.
Nylander finally started producing for the Rochester Americans around mid-February. In his last 20 games, he has compiled five goals and 16 points, including two goals and eight points in the last eight contests.
“It was tough coming back from an injury, but I feel a lot better now, more confident with the puck and stuff like that,” Nylander prior to Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators inside KeyBank Center. “I need to … bring what I did down there.”
The Sabres recalled Nylander on Tuesday, his first trip to the NHL since a four-game stint late last season.
“I just want to see him (do) what he’s done in Rochester recently,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said. “I think he’s gone to the hard areas, he’s going to the net much harder and using his skill.”
As Housley said, physicality has helped buoy the 6-foot-1, 192-pound Nylander. The youngster has been occupying the front of the net during power plays in Rochester.
“I like … he was going harder to the net,” Housley said. “He was paying a price to score goals.”
Nylander skated at left wing beside center Casey Mittelstadt, another first-round rookie, and veteran Kyle Okposo early on. Evan Rodrigues later replaced Mittelstadt, who moved to left wing beside center Jack Eichel and Jason Pominville.
To Mittelstadt, 19, Nylander’s vision stands out.
“He can make plays all over the ice,” said Mittelstadt, who made his NHL debut last week. “He’s obviously especially good in the offensive zone.”
Sabres winger Zemgus Girgensons underwent facial surgery Wednesday and is out for the season, Housley said. Girgensons recently played several games wearing a cage.
Meanwhile, Housley said goalies Robin Lehner (lower body) and Linus Ullmark (concussion) are still day-to-day. The Sabres hope Ullmark can play this weekend.
Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu (flu) and winger Jordan Nolan (healthy scratch) returned Wednesday. The Sabres scratched winger Benoit Pouliot and defensemen Josh Gorges and Matt Tennyson (all healthy).
The Sabres announced the following season award winners prior to Wednesday’s home finale: Eichel, MVP; Girgensons, Unsung Hero; defenseman Victor Antipin, Rookie of the Year; defenseman Zach Bogosian Sabres Foundation Man of the Year.
Players vote on the awards.