A native of Stockholm, Sweden, Michael Nylander began to make a name for himself with the Huddinge club of the second division. In 1990-91, he averaged over a point per game for them and was one of the few bright spots for Sweden when they finished sixth at the World Junior Championships. That summer he was selected 59th overall by the Hartford Whalers in the NHL Entry Draft.
The talented pivot was a top player on the AIK Solna club in the Elitserien and scored 17 points in seven games for the Tre Kronor at the 1992 World Junior Championships. After leading Sweden to the silver medal, he was placed on the tournament all-star team and named the top forward at the tournament by the IIHF Directorate. He capped off his year in the spring by helping Sweden win the gold medal at the World Championships.
Nylander scored 33 points for the mediocre Whalers in 1992-93 then scored eight points in seven games at the World Championships. The next year he recorded 33 assists and was one of the few creative influences on the team as it continued to struggle with consistency. Prior to the March trading deadline he was acquired by the Calgary Flames in the deal that sent Gary Suter to the Whalers.
Nylander spent most of the lockout-shortened season with JYP HT in Jyvaskyla, Finland, before going on to register 55 points for Calgary in 1995-96. He played well for Sweden at the 1996 World Championships and the World Cup but joined HC Lugano of Switzerland when he couldn't come to terms with the Flames for the 1996-97 season. In the spring Nylander scored eleven points while helping the Swedes win the silver medal at the World Championships. He rejoined the struggling Flames in 1997-98 and competed at the Nagano Olympics. Much of the 1998-99 season was lost to injuries but Nylander did experience a significant change when he was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning in January.
The gifted Swede's career with the Lightning was short-lived and he was sent to Chicago for prospects in November of 1999. After his season ended in Tampa, Nylander joined Sweden's World Championship team. In his first season in the Windy City, Nylander ended up with 23 goals and thrived with the increased responsibilities and represented his homeland yet again once the Hawks season ccame to an end. In 2000-01 he scored 25 goals and 64 points to tie for second on the club. During the 2001-02 season Nylander's goal production slipped, however his creative presence on the ice and tied for 12th in the league in assists with 46 and was a member of Sweden's Olympic Team in Salt Lake City and it's World Championship team later that spring.
After back-to-back 60 plus point seasons in Chicago, Nylander was dealt to the Washington Capitals after only nine games with the Blackhawks in the 2002-03 season. Nylander's stay in Washington would last not even one full season, as the Caps dealt him to the Boston Bruins in the latter stages of the 2003-04 season in exchange for a second round draft pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. Once eliminated from the post season, Nylander made his eighth appearance at the World Championships for Sweden, helping his country capture a silver medal.
In the summer of 2004, Nylander was acquired by the New York Rangers where over two seasons he would set career high's offensively. Following a 79 point season in 2005-06, Nylander recorded 26 goals, 57 assists in 79 games with the Rangers and led the team in points during the playoffs that season with 13.
Despite coming off his best two offensive seasons, Nylander was not resigned by the New York Rangers and would return to the Washington Capitals organization after signing a four-year contract in the summer of 2007.