BUFFALO – Rookie seasons like the one Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin just enjoyed don’t come along very often.
At 18, the Swede quickly morphed into one of the Sabres’ most valuable players, taking over games with his dynamic puck-moving skills and producing offense at a historic rate.
Only one defenseman in NHL history – former Sabres star Phil Housley, who recorded 57 points as an 18-year-old in 1982-83 – compiled more points before his 19th birthday than Dahlin, who had 44.
The third guy on that list is Bobby Orr, who had 38 points.
Dahlin, the first overall pick last year, has already joined some elite company.
In their history, one Sabres defenseman, Tyler Myers in 2009-10, has won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie, an honor Dahlin is up for tonight at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas.
Overall, Housley, Dahlin’s coach last season, scored 19 goals and 66 points as a rookie, finishing second in the Calder balloting to 43-goal scorer Steve Larmer.
Three Sabres – Myers, Gilbert Perreault in 1970-71 and Tom Barrasso in 1983-84 – have earned rookie of the year honors.
Dahlin, of course, has some stiff competition for the Calder.
Vancouver Canucks center Elias Pettersson compiled 28 goals and 66 points in 71 games. St. Louis Blues goalie Jordan Binnington went 24-5-1 with a 1.89 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage in 32 outings.
Update: Dahlin finished third in the Calder voting. Pettersson won the award. Dahlin also made the NHL All-Rookie Team as a unanimous choice.
Professional Hockey Writers’ Association members cast their votes before the playoffs, so Binnington’s terrific postseason – he won 16 games and backstopped the Blues to their first Stanley Cup – wasn’t taken into consideration.
Binnington, 25, spent six years in the minors before finally graduating to the NHL halfway through the season. At Dahlin’s age, he was still playing junior hockey.
What Dahlin did at 18 was significant. Just think, last season could be the “low point” of his career.
Dahlin should only keep getting better. As well as he performed most nights, he occasionally looked like a green rookie. Playing for one of the NHL’s worst teams certainly didn’t help, either.
“He had a very good season,” Jeremy Roenick, an NBC sports analyst and two-time 50-goal scorer, told the Times Herald. “I mean, I don’t think he was good as everyone thought he was going to be, but I think he will be as good as everybody thinks he will be.”
Roenick said Dahlin “needs to relax a little bit.”
“He wants to be so good so bad that he’s almost doing too much, and because he tries to do too much, sometimes gets caught making mistakes or gets caught out of position,” Roenick said.
Roenick thinks embracing the way two Hall of Fame defensemen played will help Dahlin reach a new level.
“He should think the way that Nicklas Lidstrom played and play the way that Paul Coffey played,” he said. “Think like Lidstrom, play like Coffey. He’s got all the intangibles of both, right? Great skater, really smart, he’s big and strong, but he wants it so bad. But sometimes you just have to allow it to come to you.”