Rasmus Dahlin on the Canucks, and pressure of being top prospect

Sam Cosentino discusses the top prospects heading into the 2018 NHL Draft.

The Vancouver Canucks have finished in a bottom-three spot in the NHL the past two seasons, but they haven’t drawn any luck at the draft lottery and ended up picking fifth overall both times. And while those two picks netted them defenceman Olli Juolevi and SHL scoring champion (and teen record-setter) Elias Pettersson, the Canucks missed out on the opportunity to draft Auston Matthews first overall in 2016, and either Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick last summer.

Today, the Canucks are again in the bottom three, sitting 29th in the NHL. While the two teams below them, Buffalo and Arizona, have records from their past 10 games above .500, Vancouver is 2-6-2; two points ahead of the Coyotes and three ahead of the Sabres, which makes finishing dead-last a very real possibility.

If they sink that low, the Canucks will have the best chance (18 per cent) to pick first overall in 2018. And if they get that pick they’ll be in position to take Rasmus Dahlin, an incredible defence prospect with the potential to be a generational player at the position.

“That would be sick,” Dahlin said when asked what he’d think if the Canucks took him. “We will see.”

Canucks Central @ Noon
Rasmus Dahlin on NHL draft and his aspiration to play 'bigger'
March 14 2018

Dahlin was on Canucks Central at Noon on Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver on Wednesday and touched on a wide range of topics. One of the most interesting, especially to Canucks fans looking forward to the future, was when he talked about Pettersson.

The fifth-overall pick from last year set an SHL scoring record for players under the age of 20 this season and won the league’s scoring title outright. Pettersson plays for Vaxjo and Dahlin plays for Frolunda, so the two have played against each other all year, and Dahlin gave his scouting report on Pettersson.

“He’s unreal,” Dahlin said. “He can do things out there that nobody can. He won the points lead here as a 19-year-old so he’s unreal. He’s going to be so fun to watch him play.

“Just give him the puck and you have an assist.”

Dahlin has been the anticipated 2018 first-overall pick for more than a year now, but he still tries to be an average teenager when he can, playing golf and hanging out with friends in his spare time. Still just 17 years old, the hype of his potential and draft stock isn’t getting to his head and he attributes how he’s been able to avoid that pressure to not playing in front of North American fans.

“I’m still just having fun,” Dahlin said. “Here in Sweden it’s not so big pressure. Everybody’s just positive and all that stuff. I have my old friends. In Sweden it’s kind of calm. I think it’s helping because I’m in Sweden.”

He’s also been helped by Joel Lundqvist, the twin brother of Rangers goalie Henrik and captain of Frolunda.

Lundqvist, who played 134 NHL games between 2006 and 2009 but has spent the past nine years in the SHL, has been setting a great example for Dahlin in terms of how to be a professional player, and what goes into getting to the next level.

“To have him on the team is the best thing you can have,” Dahlin said. “He (taught) me so much how to be … how he works so hard every day, he’s a great leader. Stuff like that. He’s so good to have on my team.”

As far as Vancouver goes, Dahlin says he doesn’t know so much about the city, but is certainly familiar with some of the past Swedish greats who have spent time as Canucks.

We won’t officially know where Dahlin is going until his name is called at the NHL Draft in Dallas three months from now, but we’ll have an idea which sweater he’ll pull on after the draft lottery.

Just one year removed from spending half a season in the Swedish junior leagues, Dahlin figures to step right into an NHL lineup and make a difference. He was Sweden’s second-highest scorer at the world juniors with six points in seven games, and though he was on the national team at the Olympics, he saw very limited action in two games and earned an assist.

As is the case with most teenaged players trying to reach the NHL, Dahlin says he needs to get better on defence, bulk up physically, sleep well and learn how to eat right. But there’s no question what his goal in hockey is.

“Since I started to understand what the NHL is (I’ve wanted to play there),” Dahlin said. “I always told myself my biggest dream was to play in NHL and win the Stanley Cup. It has always been my dream.”

In just a few weeks, we should know if he’ll start life as an NHLer with the Vancouver Canucks.

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