The Mississauga Steelheads are in quite the unique situation – they’ve got a wealth of talent, but a lot of that talent is still young and unproven. In fact, core players such as Alex Nylander, Michael and Ryan McLeod, Sean Day, Nathan Bastian, and Owen Tippett have yet to be drafted. But the Ontario Hockey League club showed promise enough to erase a rough regular-season that seeded them seventh in the weak Eastern Conference heading into the postseason — and it’s all thanks to Nylander.
With older brother William enjoying a meteoric rise in the NHL under a half-hour away in Toronto and father Michael a part of the Steelheads coaching staff, the youngest Nylander has had a lot of support this year, his first in North America. It obviously played a role in the immense success he enjoyed this season; he led all Mississauga skaters and all OHL rookies with 75 points (28G, 47A) in 57 games during the regular season. He also had a remarkable first U20 World Junior performance for a then 17-year-old.
Nylander is a top prospect in the upcoming 2016 NHL Draft where he is expected to be a top-five pick, but that part you most likely already know. What hasn’t really been talked about, though, is the impressive OHL playoff debut he had on Monday night.
The young Swede missed game one of Mississauga’s quarterfinal series against the Barrie Colts with an injury that had also kept him out of the final weekend of the regular season, but he came back in dominant fashion.
Down 1-0 in the series, the Steelheads let up three goals in game two and had yet to get on the board heading into the third. That’s where Nylander took over, though, as he posted three goals (including the game-tying goal and the insurance empty-netter) and added an assist all in a 10-minute span.
Driven by the sniper’s resurgence late in his first game back, Mississauga scored six unanswered goals in the third, winning by a score of 6-3. It sent a message to the second-seeded Colts who had defeated them in game one with a final score of 5-2.
“We played well in the first two periods but in the third, we took it too easy,” Barrie forward Cordell James told The Barrie Examiner. “We let up, and they capitalized on our mistakes, and they got us. We tried to do too much after the first couple of goals against. We should have stayed more composed. It’s the playoffs and things (happen), and you just have to bounce back from that.”
The biggest beneficiary of the game was obviously its ‘First Star’ who just put himself at the forefront of scouts’ radar with the 2016 draft in Buffalo fast approaching. The playoffs in major junior hockey are always a time for showcasing prospects’ talents on the biggest stage and in the more pressure-filled situations, and Nylander absolutely nailed his debut with the hat-trick performance.
Alex Nylander w/another goal and an assist tonight as the Steelheads defeat the Colts 4-3 in double-OT to take a 2-1 series lead #NHLDraft
— Dhiren Mahiban (@dcmahiban) March 30, 2016
The series is far from over, and such lopsided scores in each game made it nearly impossible to predict what was going to happen in game three – especially since the Steelheads were heading home for two games, riding a confidence surge after their massive come-from-behind victory.
With the help of another goal and an assist by Nylander in game three Tuesday night, Mississauga now leads the series 2-1 heading into game four. It’s a feel-good story since their regular season was a bit of a disappointment and the opening game of the postseason was less than spectacular. But Nylander, seemingly their saving grace all year long, will be counted on to provide more high-octane offense as the team takes the ice for another game in the Greater Toronto Area before traveling back to Barrie.
With the opportunity to use home-ice advantage to go up 3-1 in the series, we’ll see if big-game Nylander can keep leading the Steelheads to victory.