No. 1 pick Dahlin hits the ice upon arriving in Buffalo
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Rasmus Dahlin wasn’t kidding about how hockey has become his sole obsession.
No more than an hour after completing his introductory news conference in Buffalo on Monday, the NHL’s No. 1 overall draft pick had already changed into a yellow Sabres practice uniform and, with stick in hand, was on his way to hit the ice with a number of fellow prospects.
Finally, after a monthlong pre-draft process of interviews, testing and cross-country travel that culminated in hearing his name called first from the podium in Dallas on Friday, Dahlin was back in his element.
”I used to play some golf and hang out with friends, but, yeah, I love to play hockey and that’s my 100 percent thing I usually do,” the 18-year-old Swedish defenseman said. ”I’m a pretty boring guy.”
Off the ice, maybe.
On the ice, Dahlin is considered anything but boring with a heads-up, smooth-skating and play-making style that has already drawn comparisons to elite Swedish defensemen such as Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson and former Detroit Red Wings star Nicklas Lidstrom.
In Buffalo, he’s already captured the imagination of a win-starved base of fans, many of whom started submitting orders for Dahlin’s No. 26 Sabres jersey moments after he formally pulled one on to close the news conference.
And yet, amid the buzz Dahlin has generated since the Sabres won the NHL draft lottery in April, it’s unrealistic to presume one player alone can turn around a franchise that has finished last in three of the past five years, not made the playoffs since 2011 and not won a playoff series since 2007.
”I don’t actually think that way,” Dahlin said of whether he feels the weight of expectations on his 6-foot-2, 181-pound frame. ”I’ll bring everything I can to this team and, yeah, try to win hockey games. That’s what I think about.”
General manager Jason Botterill was quick to interject once Dahlin completed his answer.
”He doesn’t need to be the savior,” Botterill said, before listing the talented young group of players already on Buffalo’s roster, including forward Jack Eichel.
”Look, we certainly have to have better results on the ice,” he said. ”But we’re certainly excited to bring Rasmus into our core group here and how they can grow together.”
On a day dedicated to Dahlin, Botterill struck an upbeat tone in steering away most questions that featured any hint of negativity.
Concerns still abound for Botterill entering his second summer on the job.
The Sabres have no established depth in goal after last week’s decision to not re-sign third-year starter Robin Lehner.
Offense remains an issue on a team that’s not had a player score 30 goals or 70 points since Jason Pominville in 2011-12, during his first stint in Buffalo.
Their payroll structure is out of balance for a losing team, with six players set to make a base salary of $5 million or more, including Eichel, whose eight-year, $80 million contract kicks in this season.
Culture remains a question after center Ryan O’Reilly suggested the team adopted a losing mindset last season.
Rather than worry how a gloomy culture might affect newcomers such as Dahlin, Botterill is counting on Buffalo’s youngsters to begin changing the atmosphere.
”We’re not expecting them to lead the room, but we’re expecting them to bring their positive attributes, their competitiveness to that group,” Botterill said.
”It’s what we challenged our players at the end of the season. They had to change how they trained. They had to change how they approach the games,” he added. ”The beauty of the National Hockey League is that you can make adjustments, you can make jumps in the standings fairly quickly.”
Botterill chuckled when Dahlin said he was already looking forward to playing Buffalo’s cross-border rival Toronto next season.
”The question was asked to me before about changing the culture, changing our results on the ice,” Botterill said. ”That’s what we need to bring, players who are very competitive, who want to make a difference.”
NOTES: The Sabres will open a four-day rookie development camp Wednesday. … Botterill says the Sabres won’t buy out the final year of Matt Moulson’s contract, but adds the veteran forward won’t play in Buffalo. Moulson spent most of last season on loan to AHL Ontario.
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