The Sabres finally got some luck. Buffalo, which has only picked first overall twice in franchise history to date, won the 2018 Draft Lottery and the right to select super-prospect Rasmus Dahlin at the end of June in Dallas.
While any franchise could use Dahlin, the Sabres in particular get a perfect fit in the big, mobile defenseman. Buffalo is flush down the middle with centers Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly and the emerging youngster Casey Mittelstadt, but the blueline has been a black hole for years.
Is it too much pressure to task Dahlin with changing things around in a year? Well, sure. But the Swedish phenom has the talent and smarts to make a big impact right away and his presence in the organization will reverberate throughout the lineup.
For example, Rasmus Ristolainen has played way too many minutes in his young career with the Sabres and the returns have reflected that. With Dahlin on board, Ristolainen’s duties can be scaled back, hopefully improving his overall play in the process. And with Dahlin shooting left and Ristolainen right, they could even make up a pairing for the Sabres. Toss in Marco Scandella, hope for Brendan Guhle to stick as a rookie full-time next season and Buffalo’s blueline gets a marked improvement without even heading to free agency.
So why is Dahlin so good? The youngster first came onto the international radar for his excellent offensive abilities at the 2017 world juniors in Montreal, but at the 2018 edition in Buffalo, I thought he showed tremendous growth on the defensive side of the puck. Dahlin is so smart that he can anticipate where the puck is going when he doesn’t have it, allowing him to cut off lanes and pick off pucks in his own zone. For a Sabres team that was raided in the possession department this season, that will obviously be helpful. Here’s one scout’s take on Dahlin, just to get Sabres fans even more excited:
“Not many holes in his game. He’s got size, skill and smarts. Plays against men and he’s a dominant force. Can play the game almost any way you want. He’s got man-strength now. Effortless skater, high-end puck skills. Great physical attributes. There’s nobody close to him – he’s No. 1, then there’s everybody else.”
I know Buffalo has been burned by the stove of history often, but Dahlin could really help turn around this franchise in a meaningful way. With Eichel and Mittelstadt already there, the Sabres have an excellent young core. Sure, there are still pieces missing (a proven starting netminder, for one), but at least the most important elements of a champion are within the organization now.
Carolina and Montreal were the other winners on the night, moving up into the top-three. Both franchises need a No. 1 center and they will not find it in this draft, but they will each get excellent prospects. Wingers Andrei Svechnikov, Filip Zadina and Brady Tkachuk are all top-end, while Adam Boqvist is the best defensive prospect behind Dahlin.
Ottawa slid from the second-best odds to the actual No. 4 pick, but the Senators will still get a top-tier prospect in that spot, so it’s not a huge setback for them. Detroit and Vancouver both got bumped down by Carolina and that hurts a bit too, though there are a couple defensemen (Evan Bouchard, Quinn Hughes and Noah Dobson) who could challenge Boqvist in terms of talent. There’s also winger Oliver Wahlstrom to consider and he’s currently having an excellent world under-18s tournament.
But right now belongs to Buffalo, and how often has the hockey world been able to say that? For a fan base that has gone through the ringer, things are starting to go right. The foundation is getting poured and Dahlin will be very fun to watch. Next season can’t come fast enough for Sabres fans now.
Lottery Mock Draft
1. Rasmus Dahlin, D, Buffalo
2. Andrei Svechnikov, RW, Carolina
3. Filip Zadina, LW, Montreal
4. Brady Tkachuk, LW, Ottawa
5. Adam Boqvist, D, Arizona
6. Quinn Hughes, D, Detroit
7. Evan Bouchard, D, Vancouver
8. Oliver Wahlstrom, RW, Chicago
9. Noah Dobson, D, NY Rangers
10. Ty Smith, D, Edmonton
11. Barrett Hayton, C, NY Islanders
12. Joe Veleno, C, NY Islanders
13. Isac Lundestrom, C, Dallas
14. Joel Farabee, LW, Philadelphia
15. Bode Wilde, D, Florida