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Game #52 – Hawks vs. Sabres Spotlight: He’s On Dahlin

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Rasmus Dahlin is ahead of his class of rookie defensemen. That should happen when you’re the #1 pick overall, and you’ve been touted as a generational talent since basically your balls dropped. It’s especially so when it’s something of a weak class of weak, neophyte d-men, with only Miro Heiskanen in Dallas, and maybe Rasmus Andersson in Calgary looking like they may be long-term, enjoyable playthings (and if you squint, Henri Jokiharju. Though you’ll have to squint a fuck of a lot harder now to see him in Winnebago County). Still, the Sabres couldn’t ask much more of Dahlin so far.

He’s put up just about a point every other game, That might not sound like much, but there have only been four players to have completed an NHL season on the blue line at the tender age of 18. They are Aaron Ekblad, Zach Bogosian (Dahlin’s partner), Jakob Chychrun, and Dahlin (40 games minimum). Dahlin sure looks like he’s going to get past Ekblad’s 39 points at 18, though it should be noted that it’s a higher scoring environment and Ekblad isn’t really supposed to be the fireworks factory that Dahlin projects to be. Still, better than a point every two games would make him the first to do it at this age since his coach Phil Housley managed it in 1983 (EIGHTY-THREE). Boy, the Sabres sure have surrounded him with people who have shared experience, huh?

Hell, to make it more impressive, only 10 players since 1980 have managed better than 40 points from the back at even 19. Zach Werenski, Mikhail Sergachev, and Cam Fowler are recent names to have done it, but there have only been 39 players that young to manage a half-season or more in the NHL in the past 20 years at all.

Which makes you wonder how one Adam Boqvist is going to fare when he comes up for air next year. Because he doesn’t have Dahlin’s size, but Dahlin has his skating ability. We just saw Henri Jokiharju get sent down because he couldn’t deal with the physicality of the league, or at least that’s what the Hawks are claiming. The challenge for Boqvist at 5-8 or whatever he actually may be, is clear. To expect first-pairing production for him is…well, it’ll be a hurdle, that’s for sure.

Dahlin’s relative metrics aren’t as impressive, as he’s adhered pretty close to the team rate on most counts, and lags behind Jokharju and Ozhiganov in Toronto among his class in terms of relative-Corsi and scoring-chances. And the Sabres are pretty much the same possession team the Hawks are, and pretty paltry when it comes to their share of scoring-chances. Still, to ask someone who is years away from drinking legally (of course, this is Buffalo, and we know how young people there tend to find a way) to rise above what his teammates are doing consistently.

The key to Dahlin is the eye-test of course, where his skating will immediately jump out at you. He still has that young d-man problem of trying to do too much and skating himself into blind alleys, but once that gets sorted you’ll probably have one of the most effective puck-movers in the game. The kid certainly doesn’t lack for confidence.

Which puts the Sabres in the catbird’s seat. Jack Eichel starts making his real money next year, but the Sabres don’t really have anyone else to re-sign, depending on your opinion of Zemgus Girgensons (and you don’t have one). If they could fool someone into taking fellow Rasmus (Ristolainen) away they would have nearly $40 million in space to play with. Sure, Buffalo isn’t exactly a free agent hotbed, but money is green just about anywhere. They’ll want Jeff Skinner to stay, though his likely 40-goal season puts him in $7-8M range. He’s also an asshole, But teams have gotten around that before, and Eichel has never had a winger like him to play with.

#1 d-men are just about the hardest thing to find, an dit’s hard to think of a team that’s gotten a parade without one (though the Capitals spring to mind, and even they had John Carlson putting up #1 points at least). The Sabres look to have that. Now it’s about everything else.


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