Going through three different coaches is rough on any young player, but the transition from one to the next has not been more of a roller coaster ride for anyone on the Buffalo Sabres than it has been for Rasmus Dahlin. He came into the league with all the praise imaginable; drawing comparisons to Nicklas Lidstrom and even Erik Karlsson. By the third year of his career, he lost almost every semblance of himself amidst the Ralph Krueger hire and the progress made by former coach Phil Housley all but vanished. Once Krueger was fired last season and current head coach Don Granato took over, Dahlin seemed to find himself again.
Granato has shown time and time again that he can bring out the best in his players, and that he can take their talents and build on them. With Dahlin, he did all of this and more. Under Krueger, Dahlin was stuck in a purely defensive role, being forced to let the plays happen in front of him instead of being the one setting things up. Under Granato, Dahlin’s creativity came back and he returned to trying jaw dropping moves, and making some brilliant plays. This season was the real show of what he is capable of, and where his development is headed. It is something Sabres fans should be excited for, because Dahlin’s magic hands would make even Pavel Datsyuk’s jaw drop.
Optimistic Expectations for Dahlin
Last season, once Dahlin was told by Granato to just play his game, it felt like he had been unleashed. There was no more hesitation. He got his legs under him and it made a world of a difference at the start of this year. With Rasmus Ristolainen being traded at the 2021 Draft to the Flyers, he was presented with the opportunity to become the Sabres’ top defender and establish his own role on the team. He translated this into a solid contract extension that has “prove it” written all over it.
During the offseason, it seemed like he worked on his skating more as his shiftiness noticeably improved. He had a new jump in his step as he was no longer overshadowed by other star, or high profile players. He could take the reigns and establish himself firmly as one of the best overall players on the team. As soon as the Jack Eichel trade was made, there seemed to be a weight lifted off of his shoulders, and his expectations for the remainder of the year only went up.
Dahlin’s Year of Accolades
From the start, Dahlin had some struggles with his defensive play, but his offensive instincts were tuned to 11. He was setting things up from his own end and finishing plays in the opposing end, as he started to look more like a player drafted first overall. He was clearly in the zone every night trying to make the best plays possible, and offensively he was. Early in the year, he was one of the Sabres greatest liabilities defensively, but as the year progressed and he gained more confidence, Dahlin found himself being a reliable two-way defender.
All of this came together to give Dahlin career highs in all the major offensive categories. By the end of the season, he earned himself a total of 13 goals, 40 assists, and 53 points. These numbers combined with his growing national popularity granted him a spot at the NHL All Star Game as the Sabres’ representative.
Everything under Granato came together for Dahlin this season. He was making highlight reel plays effortlessly, becoming a steady defensive option, and really hit his stride for almost everything on the ice. This made a difference for everyone around him and allowed the coaching staff to confidently place anyone on his defensive pairing.
Dahlin’s Final Season Grades
There were so many good things for Dahlin to close this season that the start of it gets easily forgiven. He did the work and improved tenfold on what he was showing just a year prior. His skating was incredible, but his speed is something that still could be improved upon. His shooting was more accurate and heavier than before, and his passing ability was something to be admired. With all that being said, here’s what his final grades look like.
- Scoring: A
- Playmaking: A+
- Leadership: B
- Defense: B+
- Teamwork: A
Dahlin’s Future Look
If Dahlin continues to progress in his development, the Sabres are going to have a stud on the blue line for many years to come. With the kinds of plays that he makes and the raw talent he possesses, he could easily find himself in Norris Trophy contention in the next couple of seasons. His offensive numbers will continue to rise, and his defensive numbers will definitely improve alongside them.
He has established himself as the Sabres’ top defender without any contention. Next season’s numbers will be a testament to his growth. If he continues to improve his skating, bulks up a little bit to be more physical, and manages to increase his speed, he will be a force to be reckoned with. Combine his talents with the growth of the rest of the Sabres’ young core, and he will be one of the biggest pieces towards an inevitable playoff push.
I have been a hockey and Buffalo Sabres fan since I was in middle school. Through the good times and the very long bad times, I have stuck by this team with the hope that one day we would become a powerhouse in the NHL. Now I join The Hockey Writers as I hope to talk about this Buffalo Sabres team on an upswing. I love this team with all my heart, and I take pride in my ability to know players, prospects, and so much more. As a hockey fan I have a particular taste for young players and prospects; doing mock drafts, looking up stats, guessing potential, doing player comparisons, all of it. The idea of the future skill in the NHL is one of my favorite things to think about, write about, and talk about. I am also an avid NHL gamer with a top ranked team in the “Threes Eliminator” mode.