When the NHL Draft descends on Dallas on June 22, you can expect to hear the name Rasmus Dahlin before anyone else.
The 17-year-old Swedish defenceman is likely to go finish where he started as the projected top pick and was even getting that attention through last season. At six foot two and 183 pounds, he’s been compared to countrymen Erik Karlsson or Nicklas Lidstrom.
But according to Detroit Red Wings super scout Hakan Andersson (who’s credited with finding such diamonds in the rough as Pavel Datsyuk), Lidstrom isn’t a good comparison for Dahlin. In talking to Russian reporter Igor Eronko, Andersson said Dahlin has the tools to become the NHL’s top defenceman in his own right, playing his own style of game.
So far this season, Sportsnet has published two 2018 draft rankings: one by Sam Cosentino to start the season in October, and another follow up by Jeff Marek in November. It’s no surprise that Dahlin topped both lists and the reviews were extremely positive as the two insiders got input from scouts who view the player.
“Possesses every element necessary to become a top-pairing NHL defenceman. Don’t be surprised if he goes wire-to-wire in this spot,” Cosentino wrote.
Followed Marek: Every game he plays produces a new highlight reel for the Internet. His talents can’t be overstated. Skill, skating, size, creativity, physicality, Dahlin is the total package. Is he the best 17-year-old blue line talent the country has ever produced? Many say yes.
All reviews of Dahlin’s play have been positive in his second Swedish Hockey League season, and first full one. He had three points in 26 games last year for Frolunda playing in Sweden’s top pro league among men. This season, he’s upped that rate to seven points in his first 15 games and is tied for 12th in scoring among blueliners.
The highlights Marek eluded to have come fast and furious. Check out this play, in which Dahlin winds up for a slapper from the point, and then changes up for a neat little pass to his wide open partner for an uncontested shot and goal.
Or how about this patient chance and backhand shot that led to a nifty goal of his own?
Dahlin’s Frolunda team has five wins in 15 games so they’re in the lower half of the league. But the defenceman has been dominant by the same possession metrics we often see used to measure the impact of NHL players in North America.
(The stat is capturing the top five Corsi players with at least 10 games played)
The result is an expanding role for Dahlin. He’s currently playing a top-four role on the Frolunda blue line, averaging 17:50 of ice time per game. But that role is expanding. In his first game of the season, Dahlin played 14:19 and had less than 15 minutes in two of his first five games. But recently Dahlin has been playing much more, earning more than 19 minutes of ice in five of his past seven games, which has unlocked his scoring to a degree as he’s added four points in that span.
It’s a given that Dahlin will represent Sweden for the second year in a row at the World Junior Championship, but he’s been so good at the pro level that he’s even getting a long look for the Olympic team in February. He will play for his country in next week’s Karjala Cup in Finland, where teams (like Canada) are monitoring most of their Pyeongchang hopefuls.
So while the hype is huge, the left-shot, all-purpose defenceman is more than living up to it by all indications. So if you’re a fan of the Edmonton Oilers, Montreal Canadiens, Arizona Coyotes or Buffalo Sabres and you’re fretting over a miserable start to the season, take solace in the possibility that it could result in ending up with the next player who will take on the mantle as the NHL’s best blueliner.