The mob of credentialed reporters surrounded him four deep, hanging on his every word. The cameras–at least a dozen of them–jockeyed for position. And the questions were fired one after another, like shooting practice during a pre-game warmup. Welcome to the 2018 NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo, Rasmus Dahlin.
The blond-haired Dahlin, wearing a jet-black suit, sat on a stool and took it all in stride on Friday. His youthful face showed mostly excitement as he answered question after question. “It’s the first time so many cameras,” said Dahlin. “I think. It’s fun. I love it.”
Being the focus of attention and surrounded by media is a scene Dahlin had better get used to. After all, he’s the odds-on favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft in Dallas on June 22. He’ll join fellow countryman Mats Sundin as the only other Swedish-born player to be selected at the very top of the draft. Sundin, a center, was chosen by the Quebec Nordiques in 1989. He developed into an eight-time All-Star, having played 1,346 games and scoring 1,349 points. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012.
Dahlin answered questions from the media for roughly 12 minutes. While it’s a no-brainer that he’ll be chosen first overall, he played it coy, saying we’ll have to see how things pan out. That said, when he finally took the bait. “Of course, nothing is done,” he said. “But yeah, if I’m coming here, I would love to be here. I heard they have great fans and everybody loves hockey here. It seems like Buffalo is a great city.”
Dahlin Fever in Buffalo
Since the Buffalo Sabres won the right to pick first overall at the 2018 Draft, there’s been a buzz in Western New York for the 18-year-old Swede. It’s a mixture of relief–that the Sabres will get an immediate injection of much-needed talent to their blue line, and excitement–as fans watch every YouTube video they can find of their future phenom. All stars and experts point to Dahlin donning a blue and gold sweater as he’s called to the podium at the start of the draft on June 22 in Dallas.
While Dahlin is universally regarded as the top defense prospect in the draft over the last 40 years, Sabres general manager Jason Botterill has tried to keep a poker face when asked if he’ll be taking him. Head coach Phil Housley doesn’t hold back. He admits to having watched Dahlin’s clips on Youtube and openly raves about the up-and-coming star.
With the Combine being on the Sabres’ turf (or ice) again this year, Botterill took the opportunity to give Dahlin a full tour of their expansive dressing room facilities earlier in the week. Dahlin said his meeting with Botterill was pretty typical. “It was like every other interview I had this week,” said Dahlin. “They wanted to know who I was, get to know me. It wasn’t anything specific that they wanted to know. They asked me what kind of person I am, what I like to do; wanted to know everything about me. They asked what I did on my days off and stuff like that.”
Dahlin’s Star Power
The lean, 6-foot-2, 181-pound playmaking blueliner has drawn comparisons to former Detroit Red Wing star and seven-time Norris Trophy-winner Nicklas Lidstrom as well as Ottawa Senator captain and two-time Norris winner Erik Karlsson. He’s a smooth-skating D-man that can score, pass, hit and defend. He’s a complete package.
Though it may be premature to compare Dahlin to these elite players, he already possesses the traits that made them successful. “All those characteristics they bring to the game, Dahlin has the same potential to bring those same characteristics,” said Dan Marr, NHL Central Scouting Director. “This here’s a player that could be a cornerstone to a franchise. And he’ll be a staple on their blue line for years and years to come.”
It’s been years since the Sabres had legitimate star power. There was the Gilbert Perreault with Rene Robert and Richard Martin joining him to form the French Connection, Alexander Mogilny, Pat LaFontaine and Dominik Hasek. Not a lot for a near-50-year-old franchise. Next year, highly ranked prospect Casey Mittelstadt will join Jack Eichel.
As a Swedish pro at the age of 16 and with an Olympics on his resume as a 17-year-old, Dahlin is already a world-renowned figure. There are countless feature stories on him in every major hockey magazine and almost 8,000 videos of him on YouTube.
Dahlin’s First Taste of Buffalo
This past winter, Dahlin made his first visit to Buffalo for the World Juniors. With six assists in seven games, Dahlin was named the tournament’s top defenseman. His team, Sweden, lost to Canada 3-1 in the championship, leaving them with an unsatisfying silver medal.
Dahlin was so disgusted with his team’s performance that he took the medal off, refusing to wear it. He’s driven to win and couldn’t bear the thought of accepting second place. “At that moment it was pretty bad,” Dahlin said. “But now, if I look back to the tournament, it was a great tournament. It was awesome to be here. We had a great team. We were so close.”
He was eventually disciplined by the IIHF for his actions. “I’m a player that wants to win. I hate to lose,” said Dahlin. “I can bring myself and my competitiveness.”
Dahlin went on to represent his country at the Winter Olympics, notching one assist in two games. He also earned junior player of the year honors by scoring seven goals and 13 assists in 41 games with Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League. It was an incredible year for the youngster. “I went through so many great experiences. I’ve been to so many new places. I’ve grown as a guy, too,” said Dahlin. “I’m a teenager that’s growing every day just as a person.”
Finishing Up at the Combine
Dahlin knows Buffalo is likely his landing spot, but is trying to live in the moment. “I’m just enjoying my time here and doing some meetings and testing. The time here has been great. I’m so excited for the upcoming Draft.”
He claims he tunes out a lot of the chatter about his generational talent and franchise-altering expectations that many have used. “I’ve learned to not think about it and just focus on what I can every day. Just eat, sleep,” he said. “ I have so many other things to learn about. I feel it’s kind of easy [to block it out].
Saturday morning, the presumptive No. 1 draft pick will be under the microscope for roughly an hour as he completes his physical testing workouts.
Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”