Every year the media who cover the NHL and the NHL Draft have a responsibility to create a buzz, and this usually comes in the form of player comparisons, huge expectations, so on and so forth. Although Rasmus Dahlin has all the tools to fulfill the lofty expectations that have been placed on him, it needs to be remembered that he’s just an eighteen year old. Whether Dahlin is or isn’t going to be “the next Karlsson” or whomever it may be, Dahlin likely won’t be as good as those players are now – right away. These players that Dahlin gets compared to were once rookies in the NHL as well and weren’t putting up 70 point seasons in year one.
Defenseman going high in the draft are much more of a risk than forwards as the position is much more complex, this has lead to players like Aaron Ekblad and Erik Johnson not completely fulfilling the hyperbole and expectation placed on them in their draft year. Aaron Ekblad is still a very good player in the NHL, but he hasn’t been the elite franchise defenseman that he was labeled as in 2014. Ekblad’s play has actually been decreasing every year over the past 4 seasons.
Rasmus Dahlin has the best chance at fulfilling the expectations placed on him due to the maturity, hockey sense, and size he possesses at such a young age and has shown since he was a sixteen year old playing in the SHL.
But, what can we expect out of eighteen year old Rasmus Dahlin in his rookie year?
Comparable 1: Victor Hedman
Here’s how seventeen year old Ramsus Dahlin compared to seventeen year old Victor Hedman in the SHL. Dahlin has the advantage in Points/Per60Minutes (P/60) and dead even in Even Strength P/60 in a slightly smaller sample size. They were very similar in production at this age, but it can definitely be argued Dahlin is a better skater and more skilled than Victor Hedman, who went 2nd overall in 2009. Hedman’s size as a seventeen year old definitely gave him an advantage over other prospects sitting at 6’6 220lbs while Dahlin played at around 6’2 183lbs.
Victor Hedman played his rookie year as a nineteen year old, one year older than Dahlin will be with an extra year of SHL hockey under his belt, yet only produced 20 points in 74 games, averaging 20:51 in ice time on a bad Lightning team that went 34-36-12.
Comparable 2: Erik Karlsson
In the J20 SuperElit, the top junior league in Sweden, seventeen year old Erik Karlsson only slightly out-produced sixteen year old Rasmus Dahlin.
In Erik Karlsson’s rookie NHL season, he played just 60 games, yet he produced 26 points (a 35.5 point/82 game season pace) with an average ice time of 20:07, similar to Hedman’s. Karlsson was on a much better team though as Ottawa finished fourteen points higher than Tampa Bay.
Before determining an actual point projection range for Dahlin, we need to account for some different factors that will influence Dahlin’s point total compared to his peers above.
Ice Time / Special Teams
Dahlin will likely have more ice time than Karlsson and Hedman did. Rasmus Dahlin is only eighteen years old and his body is still maturing so he’ll need to be eased into the NHL to some extent, but I think by the end of the season Dahlin’s average ice time will be around 23 minutes.
In 2017-18, Rasmus Ristolainen played on average 26:30 per game while Marco Scandella played 23:19 on average. These are two good defenders but there’s no question that both need to be relieved of some of the work load they had last season, Dahlin is good enough to step into a top four role right away and should man the top power-play unit, He’ll likely start around the 20 minute mark and prove he’s already good enough to increase his time on ice.
Victor Hedman only registered 1 of his 20 points in his rookie year, if Dahlin is commanding the Sabres top power-play unit with other weapons around him like Jack Eichel, Casey Mittelstadt, etc, Dahlin should see a significant point jump from the power-play over Hedman. Erik Karlsson registered 10 of his 26 points on the power-play in his shortened 60 game rookie year.
Another thing to account for is Dahlin’s defensive ability, although his flash and highlights are all centered around his offensive prowess, he’s a very capable defenseman in his own end as well. The Sabres finished last in the NHL in goal differential and goals against, and although Dahlin should have the green light to attack on offense, they need him just as much defensively. All rookie defenseman in the NHL last season finished the year above 50% offensive zone face-off starts, and for the most part, more offensive zone face-off starts lead to more points. I’d expect Dahlin’s TOI distribution to be similar to Charlie McAvoy’s, around 55%. Dahlin will need to be focusing just as many of his minutes on defense as he does offense, which could make his point total drop a little.
via Sports News NHL
One would think that due to his 6’6 frame that Victor Hedman would’ve been more “NHL ready” than Erik Karlsson who was 5’11, 160lbs, and was also chosen thirteen spots later in the draft. What separated Karlsson from Hedman was his skating, poise with the puck, and hockey sense to not get himself in trouble, all which have been labeled as Rasmus Dahlin’s best attributes in a year where skating and hockey sense are even more important than they were in 2009. Dahlin is elite in both areas that both of these other Swedish standouts lacked in their rookie seasons, putting him ahead of both in NHL readiness. This should come as no surprise though, as Dahlin is a clear cut number 1 pick where as Hedman went 2nd and Karlsson 15th. Dahlin has elite skating, hockey IQ, poise, and although not huge in muscle mass yet, he comes in at 6’2 and is known not to shy away from the physical aspect of hockey.
It’s really hard to say where the Sabres will be as a team this upcoming season. Some see them as a potential turn-around team like we saw in the Devils and Avalanche this past year, making the playoffs right after finishing last in the NHL and having the 1st overall pick. Others see the Sabres middling out where many thought they should’ve been this past season, around the playoff hunt into the spring time, a position that sits right in the middle of where the 2009-10 Lightning and Senators finished.
So say the Sabres are between an 84-95 point team this upcoming season, Dahlin’s playing ~20-23 minutes per night and on the top power-play. Dahlin should be getting around 50-60% offensive zone face-off starts and used in big moment situations like being down a goal and overtime. Accounting for Dahlin’s top traits, his size, and the team around him, and past production of defenseman in their rookie seasons, I think anywhere between 35-45 points is a reasonable expectation. If you set the over/under at 40, I’d probably take the over for what it’s worth.
How many points do you expect Dahlin to get in his rookie year? Comment below or tweet us at @TheChargingBUF
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