BUFFALO – About 40 media members, including 20 cameramen, swarmed around Rasmus Dahlin, the presumptive first overall pick in the upcoming NHL Draft.
Many youngsters might’ve showcased some nerves in the spotlight answering question after question. Dahlin, less than two months removed from his 18th birthday, reveled in all the attention Friday inside HarborCenter.
Dahlin, believe it or not, said he “loves” dealing with the media.
“It’s pretty awesome, actually,” the slick defenseman told the throng assembled inside HarborCenter during the first prospect availability at the NHL Scouting Combine.
Get used to it, kid. You’ll be talking to the media the rest of your life.
Dahlin said he simply blocks out the hype surrounding him.
“I’ve learned not to think about it and just to focus on what I can do every day, just eat, sleep,” he said. “(There’s) so many other things to think about.”
The Sabres, of course, will draft Dahlin on June 22 in Dallas. The Swede, perhaps the best defense prospect in decades, is the runaway No. 1 choice. No one else is close.
Still, Dahlin, whose future was decided April 28 at the NHL Draft Lottery, wouldn’t acknowledge the Sabres plan to select him.
“Nothing is done, yeah, wait and see until that draft, what’s coming up,” he said. “Yeah, if I’m coming here, I would love to be here. I hear they have great fans and everyone loves hockey here. It seems like Buffalo is a great city.”
Naturally, Dahlin met with the Sabres this week, although he said coach Phil Housley, a Hall of Fame defenseman, didn’t attend. General manager Jason Botterill, however, was in the meeting.
“It was like all the other meetings,” said Dahlin, who met with other teams. “Yeah, it was great. It was all fun in that meeting, it was pretty good.”
The Swede knows of Housley’s dynamic career from watching highlights on the internet.
“I saw some clips (Thursday), I saw some moves he did,” Dahlin said. “It was pretty awesome to see, a skilled player.”
Dahlin might possess more skill than Housley, who compiled a whopping 1,232 points over 21 seasons.
The youngster, having already played 67 games in the Swedish Hockey League, including 41 during a full 2017-18 campaign, spent more than a year playing against men. He said he’s ready, like Housley was in 1982, to jump right into the NHL.
“I learned so many things,” Dahlin said of his season. “I was competing against men. It wasn’t easy in the beginning. I learned, I did more weights and (worked on) my body. At the end of the season, I was feeling kind of comfortable on the ice.”
It was also a whirlwind season. Dahlin represented Team Sweden at the World Junior Championship in Buffalo and earned a spot on the country’s Olympic team for the Pyeongchang Games.
“I’m starting to realize what kind of season I had,” Dahlin said. I’ve been to so many new places. I grew as a guy, too. Yeah, it was pretty awesome.”
Despite Dahlin’s lofty status as arguably the world’s best hockey prospect, nothing was given to him, said Dan Marr, the NHL’s director of Central Scouting.
Making Dahlin earn everything, Marr said, is “a nice way to develop a young prospect.”
“He’s been on an accelerated development but his status hasn’t been accelerated, he hasn’t been put on a pedestal there,” he said. “You can see when he was with the men’s team there, they didn’t throw him into the fire. He had to earn his ice time and sometimes didn’t play as much.”
Dahlin is just the latest talented defenseman from Sweden. Three of the NHL’s six highest-scoring blue liners during 2017-18 regular season – John Klingberg, Victor Hedman and Erik Karlsson – were Swedish.
Why has the country kept producing so many talented defensemen?
“I don’t know,” Dahlin said. “We like to have the puck and skate with the puck and great movement on the ice.”
But Dahlin understands he could experience growing pains adjusting to hockey’s toughest league. He’s cognizant he must keep developing.
“I need to improve on my defensive side, I need to get stronger and my shot (must improve), too,” Dahlin said. “My best thing on the ice is probably the hockey IQ.”
The Sabres announced Friday they have relinquished the rights to three 2016 draft picks: defenseman Vojtech Budik (fifth round, 130th overall), forward Brandon Hagel (sixth round, 159th) and defenseman Austin Osmanski, an East Aurora native (seventh round, 189th).
Friday was the deadline to sign them. The players can re-enter the draft.