Rasmus Dahlin, Frolunda (SHL)
Position: Left Defense
Age on Draft Day: 18.2 Years Old
Height/Weight: 6’2, 181 lbs
2017-2018 Stats (Including Playoffs): 47 GP, 8G, 15 A, 22 PIM, +7
NHL Central Scouting: 1st (European Skaters)
Bob McKenzie (TSN): 1st
Craig Button (TSN) (March): 1st
ISS Hockey: 1st
HockeyProspect.com (March): 1st
I wrote a thorough piece on Rasmus Dahlin for Sporting News back in February, which I would shamelessly recommend reading. It pertains to the weak history of defensemen being drafted first overall and why I believe Dahlin will break the trend and live up to the hype. I don’t want to get lazy and simply repeat my own content, so here are some thoughts from Tobias Pettersson, who has recently been added to Blueshirt Banter and will be helping out with evaluating European prospects. with some supplementary commentary afterwards.
“Dahlin is a generational talent. His playing style is so unique that the best comparison I have come up with from the era of hockey I have watched (90s until now) is Pavel Datsyuk, a centre. His combination of smooth, shifty skating with his silky hands is tantalizing to watch, but more importantly it’s very effective too. It’s not just for show. ”
That last sentence contains an important point from Tobias. There are players who have the ability to make highlight reel plays that spread quickly on social media, but those GIFs will not show the number of times those players might try to do too much and create an unnecessary turnover, for instance. Dahlin has the ability to make special plays, but relative to his skills he plays a very calculated style. He’s not perfect, like anyone else, but it’s very rare that he gets his pocket picked or tries to force a play that isn’t there. Like a chess grandmaster, he thinks three steps ahead and sees how plays are about to develop well before others do.
More specifically, his ability with the puck on his stick directly results in goals for his team. This past season, Dahlin put up numbers in the SHL very comparable to Victor Hedman’s despite being four months younger.
And, as mentioned in the Sporting News article, Dahlin’s numbers as a 16-year-old in Swedish junior hockey were on par with what Erik Karlsson did as a 17-year-old in the same league.
What stands out about Dahlin is, well, everything. Relatively speaking, though, it’s his skating; particularly his skating ability with the puck on his stick. He barely loses any mobility with the puck compared to without it, and the way he is able to skate into space to make dangerous plays is almost unmatched for someone his age. He’s a great skater, and has incredible vision plus deft hands that allow him to beat players one-on-one and unlock zone defenses. He also scores both by activating into the slot as well as from point shots. Offensively, he’s the total package. Despite his age, he had a commanding presence during games for Frolunda and really stood out most shifts. Here’s Tobias again:
“Even though his bread and butter is his transition and offensive game with the dangles, he’s no slouch defensively. Holding his own and gaining trust to play tough minutes at 17 in Swedish Hockey League is very impressive. He uses his skating well to keep a tight gap and has a good active stick. He’s also not afraid to go for the big hits if he sees an opportunity.”
Dahlin’s offensive numbers are incredible and alone make him an elite prospect, but his defensive impact pushes him to a whole different level. Unlike many offensive defensemen, his aggressive style does not come at a cost. He seems to always know when to take chances or pinch, and almost always manages to find his way in position on the backcheck. In other words, unlike even so many good offensive defensemen, he rarely gets caught out of place on opposition transition plays. He is a strong one-on-one defender at the blue line, defends the slot proficiently, and deals with dump-ins well. Though strength training will only make him better down the line, he already has NHL size. Something Tobias pointed out is that Dahlin had a +7.53 Corsi Rel in the SHL this past season, which is a massive number that indicates that Frolunda played significantly better when Dahlin was on the ice than when he wasn’t. His offensive production is elite in itself, but shift-to-shift he tilts the ice in his teams favor and drives play.
It’s been a long time since the NHL has seen a draft with this many high-end defenseman, and Andrei Svechnikov is one of the best pre-draft wingers of the last decade. Yet, save for a few outliers (hello to our friend Nick Mercadante!), most people view Dahlin as head-and-shoulders above everyone else. It’s hard to argue that he hasn’t earned that evaluation. As a 17-year-old, he averaged 19 minutes per night for one of most reputable and successful professional franchises in European sports. He needs to add a bit of muscle and will have to adjust to a smaller ice surface, but otherwise it’s hard to find any blemishes. His production and play have put him in the same conversation as Victor Hedman and Erik Karlsson. Player development isn’t linear, nor is it faultlessly predictable. Nonetheless, there is plenty of reason to believe Dahlin could match, if not surpass, those two. It’s hard to call any 17-year-old a sure thing, let alone a defenseman, who offers less certainty than forwards. He’s as close as you’re going to get, though.
What Others Have Said
“A player I instantly thought of is Brian Leetch and his skating, especially during his years with the (New York) Rangers. (Leetch) also had the courage to skate with the puck, use his skating and take advantage of the space when he had the chance.”
“He has great size, he is a great skater, he has very good hands. He’s extremely smart, and he has very high dedication... he has no weaknesses.”
TSN Analyst Ray Ferraro (via USA Today):
“We talk about hockey IQ, and his appears to be way, way at top of the class... then you mix it with his skating, his elusiveness, his agility, and he’s big. He’s not like other players.”