For the last four seasons Rasmus Ristolainen has been the anchor on the Sabres blueline, and has done as good a job as any could have expected him to.
Anyone who truly new Ristolainen’s skillset knew he was better suited as a 2nd pairing defenceman, and when the Sabres drafted Dahlin they drafted a a player who could take that burden off of Ristolainen’s shoulders.
For 48 games Dahlin has been developing, and now it seems that he is finally going to get his shot at being the Sabres’ top d-man.
Housley has been using him more and more as of late, as evidenced by the Vancouver game. Dahlin and Bogosian played more than any other defensive pairing, and despite the loss they were very successful.
Dahlin and Bogosian played the most minutes last night and that’s the right move. They’re the top pair on this team now. Risto and Pilut are right there with them but 26-4 is where it’s at. pic.twitter.com/ucaQn26MCc
— Chad DeDominicis (@CMDeDominicis) January 19, 2019
Against the Canucks, Dahlin had 19:22 of 5v5 ice-time (only Bogosian played more) generating 21 shot attempts for and only 11 against (65.65% CF%).
The Canucks game capped off an impressive 5-game stretch for Dahlin. Over that stretch Dahlin has averaged over 21 minutes/game, scoring once and adding four assists (1G, 4A, 5P) and going +3.
He’s one of the top defenders on the team in every category… his 26 points are 5th on the team and 2nd for points by a defenceman, his 20:42 TOI/game ranks 3rd on the team behind Ristolainen and Bogosian and his advanced stats have been super impressive over the last four games.
Dahlin has registered 31 controlled breakouts over the last four games (at 5v5). Not only does that rank tops on the team by a defenceman but it ranks tops on the team overall…and he leads this category by a wide margin.
Ristolainen ranks 2nd on the team in controlled breakouts since January 13th, but still trails Dahlin by double digits.
Dahlin has the ability to get the puck out of defensive zone and transition the team to the attack…something that most of the Sabres defenceman lack on a consistent basis. He makes breakout passes with ease, and if there’s no pass available he can just skate the puck out himself.
When he’s out on the ice, the Sabres rarely find themselves hemmed in their own zone…and Dahlin’s ability to execute the breakout is a big reason why.
For the last three seasons the Sabres have been abysmal at getting the puck out, and have had to resort to dumping the puck out on a regular basis. But with Dahlin, that has changed…they have been able to keep possession coming out of their own zone and generate offence off the rush more consistently.
Dahlin’s ability to use the breakout and transition from defence to offence is one of the reason’s why the Sabres have seen a turn around this year and find themselves in the playoff chase at the All-Star break.
For years the Sabres have only had one player capable of consistently possessing the puck while entering the offensive zone.
While Eichel still remains dominant in terms of controlled zone entries this season, Dahlin has been able to enter the offensive zone with possession on a regular basis this season, and has been dominant in this area over the last few games.
Of all the Sabres defenceman, Dahlin leads the group with nine controlled zone entries since Jan. 13, no other d-man has more than four (Pilut).
Dahlin has given the Sabres another capable option for entering the offensive zone and creating offence off the rush.
There is no denying that Dahlin has had a huge impact on the Sabres blue line, and their entire roster…but when you look at the underlying numbers, it’s even more impressive.
Couple that with the fact that he is only 18…and it’s absolutely astonishing that a young kid playing one of the hardest positions in hockey can have this big of an impact on an entire roster, and the coaching staff is taking notice.
Once the bye week is over I would fully expect Housley to take the leash off his 18-year-old rookie phenom and let him take the reins of the Sabres defence group.
He’s been getting a larger role as of late, his stats are beyond impressive and he’s a key reason as to why the team is playing meaningful hockey in January.
While there may be a few bumps along the way, Rasmus Dahlin is ready to be the Sabres’ #1 Defenceman a mere 48 games into his NHL career.