Dahlin shows he’s no fluke during Sabres prospects camp
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Forward Victor Olofsson had never heard of Rasmus Dahlin until encountering the then-16-year-old defenseman during their first practice together with Frolunda in Sweden two years ago.
”He got the puck on the blue line and I was going toward him, and he just put it between my legs and went in and scored,” Olofsson when the two were reunited at the Buffalo Sabres‘ prospect development camp.
”I thought it was a fluke at first,” he said. ”But when he did it again and again, it’s not just a fluke.”
What Olofsson first witnessed was put on display during the four-day camp and in front of crowds of 2,000 fans, who turned out daily to catch their first glimpse of the No. 1 player selected in the NHL draft June 22.
Dahlin performed as advertised with his effortless skating ability, and head-up, stick-handling style that made it seem as if the 18-year-old had the puck on a string.
Seemingly trapped behind the net during a 3-on-3 scrimmage Saturday, Dahlin shifted right and then moved left to get around one defender, before making a nifty deke to avoid another. There was the goal he scored Wednesday, when Dahlin drove into the slot, leaned to his right before snapping a shot inside the left post.
The play capturing everyone’s attention was a clean, open-ice check the lean, 6-foot-2, 185-pound Dahlin delivered in bowling over forward Matej Pekar on Friday.
”Oh, yeah, it just happens sometimes,” Dahlin said with a shrug.
Not lost on numerous observers, was how the hit might have been payback, coming a day after Pekar caught Dahlin with a high stick.
”I think it probably validates what we know how competitive a kid he is. He certainly doesn’t have a short-term memory,” assistant general manager Steve Greeley said. ”But that’s one of the attributes we loved about him.”
Pekar never saw Dahlin coming.
”I’ve never seen him hit somebody like that,” Pekar said. ”I thought it was somebody else. But I was surprised, yeah.”
An hour later, the two laughed about what happened over lunch.
Coach Phil Housley was cautious in saying he didn’t want to place too much emphasis on one play or player during a development camp.
And yet, the Hall of Fame defenseman noted the promise Dahlin brings to a franchise that has finished last in three of the past five years and is in the midst of a team-worst seven-year playoff drought.
”To get the player we got, it’s really important for our city and western New York. It gives a little hope that we get a first overall pick,” Housley said. ”It was a big moment for our franchise.”
Dahlin was wowed by the fan turnout, saying he never had anyone cheer when he previously scored during practice. He also noted how many fans were already wearing his No. 26 Sabres jersey, which was priced at more than $200 since going on sale Monday.
”I’m super impressed that they even know who I am,” Dahlin said. ”I know they love hockey. And I will try to win hockey games so we can give back to them.”
Sabres co-owner Kim Pegula was struck by the poise Dahlin shows for his age.
She recalled a conversation she had with her husband, Terry Pegula, before the Sabres first met with Dahlin at the NHL combine in Buffalo in late May.
”I said to Terry, no one says anything bad about him. And I’m like, `There’s got to be something. He’s got to have a weakness,”’ Pegula told The Associated Press.
”But everyone from his coaches to players who have played with him, all of them rave about him,” she added.
”You can definitely see as a young man playing in the Swedish men’s league how that experience has really matured him,” Pegula said. ”You can see the benefits of that as he’s handled the press, as he’s handled the combine, the world juniors and the draft. So he’s been exceptional in all those areas.”
Dahlin has spent the past two years playing in Sweden’s Elite League , where he had eight goals and 15 assists in 67 games. In February, he represented Sweden at the South Korean Winter Games, where he had an assist in two games.
Next step is the NHL, where he is all but assured of a spot on Buffalo’s roster in October. Dahlin is taking nothing for granted by shrugging off the accolades directed his way.
”Of course it’s fun to hear,” Dahlin said. ”But you have to put in the work, too.”
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