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All eyes on Sweden’s Rasmus Dahlin as NHL draft arrives

UPDATED: Thu., June 21, 2018, 6:41 p.m.

Sweden’s Rasmus Dahlin skates during the second period of an IIHF world junior hockey championships game against Russia in Buffalo, New York. 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 defensemen such as former Detroit star and seven-time Norris Trophy-winner Nicklas Lidstrom and Ottawa captain and two-time Norris winner Erik Karlsson. (Mark Blinch / AP)
Sweden’s Rasmus Dahlin skates during the second period of an IIHF world junior hockey championships game against Russia in Buffalo, New York. 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 defensemen such as former Detroit star and seven-time Norris Trophy-winner Nicklas Lidstrom and Ottawa captain and two-time Norris winner Erik Karlsson. (Mark Blinch / AP)

Rasmus Dahlin is drawing comparisons to a pair of the best defenseman in the game today and to one of the best of all time.

No pressure.

The smooth-skating, playmaking Swedish defenseman is expected to become just the third defenseman to be picked No. 1 in the NHL draft.

“He is so far ahead of anyone else available,” said Joe McDonnell, the Dallas Stars’ director of amateur scouting. “We didn’t pay much attention to him this year because if we picked No. 1, we probably wouldn’t have jobs right now. And if we didn’t have the No. 1 pick, we knew we wouldn’t be able to draft him.”

Buffalo is expected to take Dahlin first overall tonight, and it will be no surprise to some hockey’s greats.

Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom, a seven-time Norris Trophy winner, is one of the people who think Dahlin does compare to him, and two other current star defensemen who happen to be Swedes: Erik Karlsson and Victor Hedman.

“He has a lot of tools,” Lidstrom, who has seen Dahlin play and has known of him for a few years, wrote in an email. “It will be interesting to see his development in the NHL where everyone is better/stronger/faster!”

Since St. Louis selected defenseman Erik Johnson first overall in 2006, the only blueliner taken No. 1 was Aaron Ekblad in 2014. Ekblad started well in Florida, becoming an All-Star in his first two seasons and winning the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie, but appeared to take a step back the past two years. Johnson finished 12th in Rookie of the Year voting and has had a decent career with the Blues and Colorado Avalanche.

“This is one of those years where there’s a generational-type defenseman available, and that’s not always the case,” Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman said. “Everybody says this Dahlin is the best in a while on defense.”

The 18-year-old Dahlin has held his own against grown men over two seasons in a high-level European league. He had seven goals and 13 assists in 41 games this past season with Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League and was the junior player of the year. As the youngest player in the Olympic men’s hockey tournament, he had an assist in two games while suiting up sparingly for Sweden.

“I think I’m ready right now to play in the NHL,” Dahlin said.

Dahlin is set to become the second Swede taken No. 1 overall, joining Hall of Famer Mats Sundin, drafted by Quebec in 1989.

The Detroit Red Wings have leaned on scout Hakan Andersson for nearly three decades to decide who overseas has a chance to play in the world’s best hockey league. Andersson, who knows the hockey landscape as well as anyone overseas, said he has never seen a prospect quite like Dahlin.

“It’s not easy to put him in any category with anyone,” said Andersson, the director of European scouting for the Red Wings. “It’s hard to say someone is going to be better than Nicklas Lidstrom, but Dahlin has all the tools to be an unbelievable defenseman. He has Lidstrom’s poise with the puck. He can rush the puck up the ice like Karlsson. And, he’s big and aggressive enough to play the physical game and take people out like Hedman can.”

“I need to get stronger,” said the 6-2, 181-pound Dahlin.

But he has plenty of strengths on his side.

He Dahlin can skate well, and effortlessly, in any direction while dangling the puck as if it’s attached to his stick with her soft hands, while keeping his head up.

With a left-handed shot, he can send a blur of a one-timer to the back of the net or snap off a wrist shot in a fraction of a second. He’s also a gifted passer.


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