DALLAS — Two hours after the months of waiting to be selected first overall at the 2018 NHL Draft by the Sabres, defenseman Rasmus Dahlin was finally reunited with his parents and brother and sister under the stands at American Airlines Center Friday night.
It had been a long and arduous process filled with photography obligations, autograph signing and some extra perks, like a phone call with Sabres star center Jack Eichel. The two have never met but will soon be teammates in Western New York and part of what all parties involved will be the resuscitation of an NHL franchise that hasn’t reached the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2011.
Although he was the consensus No. 1 and then was finally selected first shortly after commissioner Gary Bettman announced the Sabres were on the clock, Dahlin is trying hard to avoid being considered a savior.
“I didn’t think about it that way,” Dahlin said. “Only thing I can do, is to bring all I can to that team to win hockey games and I’m super excited to do that.”
Savior or not, Dahlin is going to be a superstar in a smaller American city that has just two professional sports teams and is desperate for a winner after going decades without winning a pro sports title. The Sabres are going to need Dahlin to make a seamless transition to the NHL and then develop into the cornerstone defenseman most experts predict he’ll be.
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Even superstars need help, and not just on the ice. That’s why Asa Dahlin, Rasmus’ mother, plans to move to Buffalo with her son for his rookie season.
“I think it’s important to be there like an everyday thing, that he can focus on hockey, what he’s supposed to do, and I can focus on the rest,” Asa said. “So just help him out to have a good time and focus what he’s there for.”
Dahlin and his mom will get to experience a new city that they’ve visited twice but have hardly seen. When they were at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships, Asa said it was too cold and snowy to venture too far from the rink and hotel. Dahlin said the brief experiences he had in his new hometown were positive and reminiscent of places he’s lived and played in Sweden.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Dahlin said. “I went to outside the city and also inside, and to some restaurants. It’s not the biggest city but I came from a small city, so I’m used to that size, so that’s amazing.”
If being the catalyst for a franchise turnaround eight years in the making wasn’t enough, Dahlin also has to follow in the skate tracks of a couple legends. Although playing for a great defenseman like Phil Housley will aid the teenager’s development, many are going to expect Dahlin to make an impact similar to his coach, who had 558 of his 1,232 NHL points in a Sabres sweater.
Then there’s the Swedish connection, as Dahlin became the first Swede selected with the No. 1 pick since Mats Sundin in 1989.
“Yeah, it’s pretty crazy,” Dahlin said. “He’s a legend in Sweden and also in the hockey world. It’s kind of weird but amazing.”
Dahlin admitted that although it was a foregone conclusion he was going to be picked No. 1, he was nervous Friday. His parents echoed those sentiments. But there was no way the Sabres were going to pass up on the player one Sweden-based NHL scout told Sporting News “has everything.”
If Dahlin can thrive in the NHL the way he survived during all the pre-draft hype and media attention, and then made it through the post-draft responsibilities, the Sabres will have the franchise player they expect. And he’ll have mom at his side to make Buffalo an easier place to adjust to while he’s trying to make the Sabres a better team.