After what seems like years of hype surround Rasmus Dahlin, it was finally the young Swedish defenseman’s day on Friday in Dallas.
The 18-year-old was taken with the top pick at the 2018 NHL draft by the Buffalo Sabres, fulfilling the longtime expectation for the blueliner many scouts describe as a generational talent, a smooth-skating, play-making defender.
He’s drawn lofty comparisons to fellow Swedish defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom, Victor Hedman and Erik Karlsson. He’s the first Swede to go No. 1 since forward Mats Sundin was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in 1989.
Dahlin nows joins a Sabres franchise that’s been stuck in a rebuilding phase despite having a top-10 selection in each of the last six drafts, including No. 2 picks Sam Reinhart (2014) and Jack Eichel (2015). Buffalo’s newest player is adamant that he can help the cause right away.
“I think I’m ready right now to play in the NHL,” he said ahead of Friday’s first round.
Dahlin excelled in the Swedish Hockey League over the last two seasons, racking up seven goals and 20 points with Frolunda in 2017-18, taking home Junior Player of the Year honors. He also was the youngest men’s hockey player at the PyeongChang Olympics in February, getting in a pair of games and adding an assist for Tre Kronor.
While he'll get plenty of opportunities in Buffalo, the team plans to help Dahlin navigate a new league.
“Well, obviously, he’s a special player, we don't want to put too much pressure on him,” Sabres coach Phil Housley told NBCSN’s Kathryn Tappen. “He’s a young man, were gonna put him in areas to succeed. With his talent and skill level, he’s going to really have an impact on our team and our organization.”
If Dahlin was a lock for the No. 1 pick, the Carolina Hurricanes had an equally easy choice at No. 2, taking Russian right winger Andrei Svechnikov. He potted 40 goals and 72 points in 44 games with the OHL’s Barrie Colts this past season, taking home the league’s Rookie of the Year title while quickly rising up the prospect rankings. He brings a combination of speed and power that makes him an offensive weapon, though he also prides himself on his two-way play.
Rounding out the top three, Montreal selected center Jesperi Kotkaniemi, filling an organizational need down the middle with a 17-year-old prospect who notched 10 goals and 29 points in 57 games with Assat of the Finnish League. He’s a highly-skilled, creative forward with a dangerous shot that’s still filling out his 6’2” frame.
Here's how the rest of the first round of the 2018 NHL draft shook out on Friday:
* OTT trades No. 22 pick to NYR for Nos. 26 and 28
^ TOR trades No. 25 pick to STL for Nos. 29 and 76