Top NHL draft prospect Dahlin draws a big crowd in Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. — For all the buzz Rasmus Dahlin has generated at just 18, the Swedish defenceman joked he had never encountered a mob scene such as the one before him on Friday.

There were as many as a dozen cameras and two dozen more reporters packed three- and four-deep surrounding Dahlin, seated on a stool at the NHL pre-draft scouting combine in Buffalo.

“Yeah, it’s pretty awesome actually,” Dahlin said, his blond hair offset by the jet-black suit he wore. “It’s the first time so many cameras, I think. It’s fun. I love it.”

Dahlin had better become accustomed to it, because the lean, play-making and smooth-skating blue-liner should remain the focus of attention in the days leading up to the NHL draft being held in Dallas in three weeks. That’s when Dahlin is projected to be the first overall pick and join Mats Sundin as the only other Swedish-born player to go No. 1.

“If that happens, I would be so glad and proud,” Dahlin said, his eyes growing bigger at the mention of Sundin, who was selected No. 1 by the Quebec Nordiques in 1989.

At 6-foot-2 and 181 pounds, Dahlin is considered the most NHL-ready prospect in this year’s draft class for his all-around ability. He’s already drawing comparisons to other elite Swedish defencemen, such as former Detroit star and seven-time Norris Trophy-winner Nicklas Lidstrom and Ottawa captain and two-time Norris winner Erik Karlsson.

“All those characteristics they bring to the game, Dahlin has the same potential to bring those same characteristics,” NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr, told The Associated Press last week.

“It’s not fair to compare him to those players, but everything that made them successful National Hockey League players, this kid has it in his game,” Marr added. “This here’s a player that could be a cornerstone to a franchise. And he’ll be a staple on their blue line for years and years to come.”

It’s not just one aspect of Dahlin’s game in which he excels, Marr said. It’s all of them.

Whether it’s hitting, scoring or defending, Marr said Dahlin has “shown he can rise to the occasion or rise to perform whatever needs to be done for that situation.”

And the significance of Dahlin being in Buffalo for the combine wasn’t lost on anyone, given the Sabres own the top pick .

General manager Jason Botterill isn’t tipping his hand on whether he’ll select Dahlin, but coach Phil Housley has already been crowing about the youngster’s potential.

“I’ve been watching on YouTube, and boy it’s incredible,” Housley, a Hall of Fame defenceman, told The Buffalo News last month. “He’s going to be a complete package in today’s NHL.”

Among the prospects ranked behind Dahlin by central scouting are Russian forward Andrei Svechnikov, who played in the Ontario Junior League last season, and Boston University’s Brady Tkachuk, the son of former NHL star Keith Tkachuk.

Dahlin is taking nothing for granted in saying, he’s not sure of the Sabres’ intentions.

“Of course, nothing is done,” he said. “But yeah, if I’m coming here, I would love to be here. I heard they have great fans and everybody loves hockey here.”

Dahlin got his first taste of Buffalo’s hockey fans this past winter when he was part of Sweden’s silver medal-winning team at the World Junior hockey championships held in the city. Some five months later, the sting of a 3-1 loss to Canada in the championship game had mostly worn off.

“At that moment it was pretty bad,” said Dahlin, one of four Swedish players disciplined by the International Ice Hockey Federation for refusing to wear the silver medal during the postgame ceremony. “But now, if I look back to the tournament, it was a great tournament. It was awesome to be here. We had a great team. We were so close.”

Dahlin was named the tournament’s top defenceman after finishing with six assists in seven games. At just 17, he then represented Sweden at the Winter Olympics, where he had an assist in two games. Add to that, Dahlin scored seven goals and 13 assists in 41 games with Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League, and earned junior player of the year honours.

“I went through so many great experiences. I’ve been to so many new places. I’ve grown as a guy, too,” Dahlin said attempting to put the year into perspective. “I’m a teenager that’s growing every day just as a person.”

Once the session with reporters ended, Dahlin made his way to a bank of windows overlooking Buffalo’s newly redeveloped inner harbour, and soaked in the view.

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