One of the most appealing qualities of Rasmus Dahlin is there are no question marks. He’s ready for the NHL right now.
“I’m not saying he will be a god for the Buffalo Sabres, but he will definitely help them in his first year,” Goran Stubb, director of NHL European Scouting, said by phone from Finland.
It’s nothing new for the No. 1 overall pick to jump right to the big leagues. The last player who didn’t was defenseman Erik Johnson, selected by St. Louis at the top of the 2006 NHL Draft.
That shows defensemen don’t always provide an immediate boost. Miro Heiskanen and Cale Makar went third and fourth, respectively, in the 2017 Draft but spent this season in Europe and college. In 2016, the highest-drafted defenseman was Olli Juolevi at No. 5. He played one more year in the Ontario Hockey League and spent this season in Finland.
Dahlin, expected to be drafted first overall by Buffalo on June 22, is ready for North America after two seasons in the Swedish Hockey League.
“He can play big minutes already now,” said the head European scout for an NHL team, who was granted anonymity because his organization doesn’t allow scouts to speak to the media. “He’s an athlete, and he’s in good shape all the time. Everything is good in his game.”
Dahlin has made it clear he’s eager to jump to the NHL right away. After his Swedish Hockey League season ended with Frölunda, the defenseman had the chance to join Sweden’s national team for the under-18 tournament.
He decided the NHL was more important.
“He’s a very smart guy,” Stubb said. “He knows what is waiting for him this summer. It’s the Combine. It’s the Draft. He will definitely attend a rookie camp.
“He knows it’s going to be a tough summer, so when his team was out from the playoffs, he said that’s it’s for me. He didn’t play with the Swedish under-18 team in the under-18 championship. He could have played, of course, and helped the team, but he just thinks ahead on the rink and outside the rink.”
Rasmus Dahlin’s vision catches scouts’ eyes
The last time the Sabres had a defenseman jump from the draft floor to a full NHL season was 1982. Buffalo selected Phil Housley at No. 6 overall, and the Minnesota high school star recorded 19 goals, 47 assists and 66 points in 77 NHL games.
Yes, that’s the same Phil Housley who will be Dahlin’s coach.
“I think Phil is a perfect coach for him,” said the NHL team’s head European scout. “Howie came in directly from high school, and this guy is coming from pro leagues already. He knows.
“Phil is going to be a perfect coach for Dahlin to get better. The expectations are always very high on those kids. Of course it’s going to take awhile. I don’t think he’s going to run the league his first week, but he’s going to be very good.”
While Dahlin is ready, it would be mind-blowing if he matched Housley’s first-year stats. Comparisons from the past five years put expectations for Dahlin at seven goals, 21 assists and 28 points.
Seth Jones started with Nashville in 2013 after being drafted fourth overall. He put up six goals, 19 assists and 25 points in 77 games. Florida’s Aaron Ekblad recorded 12 goals, 27 assists and 39 points in 81 games after being drafted No. 1 in 2014. Noah Hanifin had four goals, 18 assists and 22 points in 79 games after Carolina select him fifth overall in 2015.
If Dahlin were to match their aforementioned averages of seven goals, 21 assists and 28 points, he would have led Buffalo blue-liners in goals this season and ranked second to Rasmus Ristolainen in points (41) and assists (35).
“He’s very skilled and he’s a very proven kid,” said the European head scout. “Erik Karlsson didn’t run the league his first year. You’ve got to be patient. You’ve got to give them time.
“The more you play, you’re going to get mature. You’re going to learn things. He’s just going to get better and better. “
Roll the highlight film: Here is Rasmus Dahlin in action