Rasmus Dahlin emerged as a point guard, best defenseman in fourth season with the Sabers | Buffalo Sabers News

Rasmus Dahlin didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.

There were nights during his fourth NHL season when Dahlin texted Buffalo Sabers coach Don Granato asking to watch the video.

When Dahlin was unhappy with the way he defended a one-on-one run that led to a San Jose goal in early November, the first overall draft pick of 2018 went early on. the ice to train for several days to work out the exact scenario.

“He’s probably the hardest working guy on our team, with (Kyle) Okposo up there too,” said Henri Jokiharju, who partnered with Dahlin in defense.

It was no different than Dahlin’s previous three seasons at Buffalo. He was always doing extra work before and after practices. But the reason this chase was great was different under Granato and his coaching staff.

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Granato urged Dahlin not to worry about satisfying a coach or trying to meet outside expectations. Be yourself and use your instincts, Granato told his best defender. Rid of the fear of failure and the previous coach’s philosophy that caused overthinking, Dahlin became a top player and leader for the Sabers.

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No more comparisons with Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom or Erik Karlsson of San Jose. Dahlin, 22, has shown the NHL that he has a unique combination of vision and elite skating, along with an enhanced defensive game that has allowed him to be successful against top players.

“I guess it took a few years to figure out that all the noise doesn’t matter,” Dahlin said. “So, yeah, this year I barely used social media throughout the season. Little things like that helped me a lot. I mean, thanks to the coaches too, who just let me making the mistakes and doing all the wrong to be able to improve. It’s a bit of everything, but mostly thanks to these guys.

Dahlin’s change could be seen on and off the ice. He no longer hesitated with and without the puck, a tendency that had a negative impact on his game when Ralph Krueger was coaching. Standout plays were on display every night throughout the season, from end-to-end rushes to dynamic maneuvers to create space in the offensive zone. And he’s exploited his fiery competitiveness to frustrate the league’s best, including Auston Matthews of the Maple Leafs.

Pushing to add to a 4-2 lead away from the Heritage Classic at Tim Hortons Field, Dahlin was defending the Sabers net when he was checked hard in the neck by Matthews, who was suspended for two games. for the offence.

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“If you look at individual growth and you don’t mention Rasmus Dahlin, I think that’s madness,” Okposo said. “He has made strides this year, leaps and bounds. Just how he figured out how to play both sides of the puck this year. I think his defensive game is what gave him so much confidence offensively.

“However many points he had, it doesn’t matter. But just the things he was able to do and how he was able to figure out, ‘OK, I can make this move then and I have to turn the puck over then.’ That’s something only experience can tell you in the NHL. And he’s done a hell of a job of figuring that out and growing this year.

Offensively, Dahlin has unleashed his potential and reached a new level. He set career highs in goals (13), assists (40), points (53) and average time on the ice (24:01) in 80 games. These feats were achieved by defending the opposition’s best players seemingly every night.

He became the first Sabers defenseman to 50 points since Garry Galley in 1995-96, and his goal tally was the highest since Jordan Leopold totaled 13 in 2010-11. Dahlin is responsible for two of the most productive seasons by a Buffalo defenseman in the last 25 years, as his 0.678 and 0.663 points per game in 2019-20 and 2021-22, respectively, trail only Brian Campbell’s production (0.683) in 2008-09.

Dahlin was quarterback for one of the best power-play units that helped the Sabers lead the NHL in power-play from March 27 until the end of the regular season. He has scored five goals and had 16 points in the team’s last 20 games, producing seven multi-point games over that span.

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“You’re not always going to have your best game every night, 82 games,” Sabers general manager Kevyn Adams said. “It’s tough. But there are a lot of games where he was the best player on the ice, and he’s the kind of person who wants to be great, who wants to be the best, and he’s going to work on it. Those are so the guys who you start getting really excited because they’re not satisfied. They want to be better.”

There was no clear path to contend with when the Sabers’ season ended in May 2021. Krueger was fired 12 losses in a franchise-record 18-game winless streak. Granato brought in more than just about every player on the roster during his short time as interim coach, but it was unclear if the core of the franchise would be dismantled, and a coaching search loomed.

Dahlin was among the young players who expressed their hope and excitement for the future when meeting with management during exit interviews. He wanted to spearhead positive change for the franchise. And it was Dahlin who emerged as a leader this season when the Sabers had a locker room that allowed more voices to be heard.

“I feel like a different person right now,” he beamed. “It’s been a fun ride, for sure.”

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Strengthened by his coaches and teammates, Dahlin flourished. He is now a cornerstone of the franchise and is considered one of the best young defensemen in the league. His rise this season included a spot in the NHL All-Star Game, where he saw he belonged and the league’s top accolades on him.

Defensively, he honed his attention to detail and learned to kill plays while staying in position to stifle a scoring chance. With a fearless approach, Dahlin was aggressive against opposing forwards in a way he couldn’t be in previous seasons.

And there’s more room for Dahlin to improve. The arrival of his compatriot number 1 in the repechage Owen Power and the rise of Mattias Samuelsson and Henri Jokiharju will relieve Dahlin. He was far from satisfied as he prepared to join Sweden at the IIHF World Championships, which will take place in Finland from May 13-29. This, Dahlin said, is just the beginning.

“I mean it’s a lot more,” he explained. “I’m not satisfied. This is the year I start playing against the other team’s top line and trying to figure out how to play. I just want to take action in all areas. I want to be a defender who coaches can trust in all situations. I want to play PK too, and I want to play everything. So I think I mean I have a lot more to give.

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