While he has only been with the Buffalo Sabres for a short period of time, Mattias Samuelssons’ impact on the team cannot be questioned. The former second-round pick has become one of the more impressive and important players throughout the organization. His on-ice chemistry with Rasmus Dahlin and overall strong defensive play makes him one of the most crucial pieces of the team currently, and he will be moving forward too. His role will continue to grow, and having him locked into the lineup for the next seven years will be crucial to the Sabres’ future success.
There was a level of both concern and shock surrounding the seven-year extension Samuelsson signed before the season began. After all, he still has not scored his first NHL goal, and his nearly nonexistent point totals would indicate he was not worthy of the $30 million deal he received. The impact he has on the team goes far beyond goals and points however, and when he is not in the lineup it drastically changes how they play.
Samuelsson’s Absence Severely Hampers Sabres‘ Play
While Samuelsson was out of the lineup for 13 games earlier this season, his presence was severely missed. They won just three games while he was injured, lost eight games in a row, and gave up three or more goals in all of the games he missed. When he returned to the lineup against the Montreal Canadiens, the Sabres were able to end their losing streak in dramatic fashion, winning 7-2.
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It is clear how important Samuelsson is to the team’s game plan, and they play with a different attitude when he is in their lineup, because of his physicality and sound defensive play. He cleans up a lot of the defensive mistakes that come with a young team like the Sabres, and he’s there to mitigate the risks that come with the high volume of turnovers they produce. He also has a major impact on the penalty kill, and in his return, the Sabres held the Canadiens scoreless on their six power play chances.
The point totals will never reflect the overall impact Samuelsson has on a given game, but the results with and without him are night and day. His focus and commitment to the defensive end of the ice help the team’s transition into offense because of how quickly he is able to shut down plays. He is by far the team’s best defensive defenseman, and he has proven to be the partner who fits with Dahlin the best because of how well their skill sets complement each other.
Dahlin and Samuelsson Have Been Sabres’ Best Pair
Dahlin is on pace to beat his career-best 53 points he had last season and Samuelsson is a large part of that. It is clear when they are paired together Dahlin has the green light to explore what he can do with his offensive talent, while Samuelsson plays the stay-at-home role and stays back to be responsible in the defensive zone. They’ve certainly been the team’s most consistent pair when they’ve been together, both on offense and defense. With Dahlin signed through the 2023-24 season, this pair will be a regularity in their lineup moving forward.
Having Samuelsson is a massive benefit and luxury for the Sabres to have. He is becoming one of the better defensive defensemen in the league at just 22 years old. He has just over 60 NHL games under his belt, and we have only seen him scratch the surface of his potential. The recent NHL trend has been towards defensemen who can skate the puck up the ice and be creative in the offensive zone, but he is proving how valuable shut-down defensemen still are. They struggled mightily with him out of the lineup, and the contributions he makes on the ice stretch far beyond scoring points. He makes their penalty kill better, and he can insulate players like Dahlin and Owen Power with his ability to play the defensive style while they flex their offensive muscles. Having him in the lineup moving forward is going to be essential for the organization and they should be glad to have him locked up for as long as they do.
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Zach Rohde is a Buffalo Sabres Contributor for THW. Growing up in the Buffalo area during the late 2000s, the Sabres success fueled his passion for hockey. He has written about the Sabres for another site in Buffalo previously, and covered Buffalo Sports for a brief time as a freelance sports assistant for Spectrum News Buffalo before moving to a full time position in general news. Twitter: @ZachRohde