BUFFALO – Chris Taylor understands the excitement surrounding defenseman Rasmus Dahlin’s first appearance in Blue and Gold. Tonight, more than four months after the Sabres won the right to draft the ultra-talented Swede first overall, he will finally play a game.
“So do you guys want me to play Rasmus for 30 or 40 minutes tomorrow?” Taylor joked Thursday after rookie camp opened inside HarborCenter.
There are, you know, 26 other youngsters on the roster for the Prospects Challenge rookie tournament.
Of course, Taylor, who coaches the Rochester Americans, is excited to watch Dahlin up close. Still, he has an entire team to evaluate.
“It’s not just we’re watching him; we’re watching everybody,” Taylor said after the Sabres prepared for the New Jersey Devils. “We got a lot of great talent in this organization stepping up and putting pressure on other guys.”
Clearly, the prospect base Jason Botterill has assembled over his 16 months as general manager possesses more speed than in previous years.
“You could see it jumping up in plays,” Taylor said of the pace of Thursday’s practice. “I thought our two-on-ones were quick, they weren’t trying to slow it down, trying to make a fancy play.
“It was getting over the blue line, making plays. We had back checkers on them, and I thought our back checkers played fast, too.”
Four Sabres on the Prospect Challenge roster – defenseman Brendan Guhle, center Casey Mittelstadt and wingers Alexander Nylander and Tage Thompson – have already played in the NHL.
Barring injury, the 6-foot-3, 186-pound Dahlin, 18, will make his NHL debut Oct. 4 against the Boston Bruins. Some other Sabres – perhaps center Rasmus Asplund, defenseman Lawrence Pilut and winger Victor Olofsson – could crack the big club this season.
On Thursday, Taylor paired Dahlin beside the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Will Borgen, 21, a strong defense prospect beginning his first pro season. Borgen, who played three years at St. Cloud State University, will serve as an anchor of sorts for the freewheeling Dahlin.
“We thought that Will would complement him, just a little bit more of a defensive style,” Taylor said. “He’s a bigger guy, he plays rough. We want Rasmus to be up in the play all the time and show his talent.”
Naturally, Dahlin’s wide array of talents wow Taylor.
“It’s unbelievable, like, he jumps in the play, he’s headsy,” he said. “Every drill he works at. His passes are always on. He shoots with authority. He shoots to score every time he’s out there. He’s a different player.”
Dahlin, who hasn’t played a game in about five months, acknowledged he’s anxious. The Sabres also play Boston on Saturday and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday afternoon, although it’s unclear if Dahlin will dress for all three contests.
“To put on that Buffalo Sabres jersey, it’s going to be huge,” Dahlin said.
He added: “I have to play good to make the team.”
Rest assured, Dahlin already has a spot locked up.