As I watched the Montreal Canadiens further plummet into the abyss on Saturday, I started to think about the 2018 draft. OK, I’m always thinking about the draft, but this time I had specific intent: Rasmus Dahlin is the consensus No. 1 prospect and his sublime skills from the blueline make him the perfect catalyst for an NHL team in this particular era of transition-heavy hockey. But which team would he help the most?
The worst team would be the obvious answer, but what I mean in this particular instance, is “which team would most likely turn around thanks to Dahlin?”
To give a previous example, the Toronto Maple Leafs were starting to build a very nice pipeline headlined by Mitch Marner and William Nylander, but it took the drafting of big, dominant center Auston Matthews for things to come together. It’s never one player, but one player can be the lodestone.
In Dahlin, we have an Erik Karlsson-style defenseman; one who can create instant offense and control the pace of the game. Who would he help the most? Let’s take a look at five bottom-feeders right now: Buffalo, Arizona, Montreal, Edmonton and Florida. While other teams such as Minnesota and Philadelphia are at the bottoms of their divisions, I see the Wild and Flyers more as struggling teams in good divisions – both with brighter futures already. The Failing Five, however? They need help. In reverse order of Dahlin impact:
Arizona: The Coyotes’ defense corps in led by the very good Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who would serve as a great Swedish mentor for Dahlin, as would veteran Niklas Hjalmarsson. Dahlin could help Arizona’s bottom-10 possession numbers, but he can’t play net and he can’t win faceoffs. Though a power play with him and Clayton Keller would be super-fun. I suppose the X-factor would be center Dylan Strome beasting it up after a great AHL season.
Montreal: Pressure on the Canadiens to get better fast is a lot more heated than in Arizona, but the best case with Dahlin in the lineup is that Montreal becomes an Ottawa Senators-type of squad, led by a puckmoving ace on the blueline, with competent forwards. But I’m not sure Montreal has players that rival Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman and Matt Duchene. The Habs do have Carey Price in net, and if he can rebound from this year’s terrible experience, perhaps it doesn’t matter. And again – Dahlin and Jonathan Drouin on the power play would be beautiful.
Florida: I’m not even really sure if Florida is as bad as its record. If Roberto Luongo doesn’t injure his hand in late October, maybe they have a couple more points. Nonetheless, if the Panthers win the lottery, they should have all the elements for success: great young centers in Aleksander Barkov and Vince Trocheck, a defense corps that would boast Dahlin, Aaron Ekblad and Michael Matheson, plus veteran goaltending. They’d just need to put it all together, which has been the issue in Florida for a long time.
Edmonton: If the Oilers can’t become a contender with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Dahlin, the NHL should just contract the franchise. In all seriousness though, the left-shooting Dahlin could pair with right-shot Adam Larsson, with the veteran playing the stay-at-home role while the rookie does the swashbuckling. Perhaps that frees up Oscar Klefbom to get his two-way game back in order on another pairing, giving Edmonton a more dangerous back end. Offense-wise, you would have two of the premier puckhandlers in hockey with McDavid and Dahlin, so activating a rush would be incredibly easy on most shifts. And a power play that is already good becomes potentially great.
Buffalo: The Sabres could use Dahlin more than any team, in my opinion. The franchise already has a game-changing center in Jack Eichel, plus a great No. 2 in Ryan O’Reilly. Otherwise, the forward corps is decent and if Casey Mittelstadt and/or Alex Nylander can make the jump next year, it gets better. The back end is messy and a big reason is an overreliance on Rasmus Ristolainen, who is playing more than 27 minutes a night. Toss Dahlin onto that depth chart and things get so much smoother. Heck, maybe you even put the two Rasmuses (Rasmi?) together, with Ristolainen playing more of a defensive role and ceding power play time to Dahlin, getting his own minutes down in the process. Much like Edmonton, Buffalo has one centerpiece already (in Eichel), but Dahlin would definitely put them back in the playoffs.