Dahlin, whose ghastly minus-34 rating ranks last in the NHL, hasn’t suddenly recaptured his old form. Still, he has looked much more comfortable playing for Granato than he did under Ralph Krueger, who was fired March 17.
Simply playing a calmer, more composed style – Dahlin, 20, has often looked overwhelmed defensively – will help him to reset.
“We need him to take a deep breath and we need to get him in the situations where he can read and react and I say ‘learn from it,’ but it’s more adjust to it,” Granato said on a Zoom call prior to tonight’s game against the New York Rangers at KeyBank Center. “He has such a high skill set, when a mistake is made, he can self-correct quick and we want to put him in situations where he’ll learn and have the opportunity to self-correct quick.”
Dahlin has also started carrying the puck more comfortably and joining the rush, a clear sign his confidence has increased.
When the Sabres fired assistant coach Steve Smith with Krueger, they elevated Dan Girardi from his role as a development coach to the assistant in charge of defense.
The Sabres wanted a fresh, young voice for their defensemen, most notably Dahlin. Girardi, 36, played 927 games as an NHL defenseman before retiring in 2019.
“Danny Girardi’s done an exceptional job with him,” Granato said. “Danny’s a guy that just finished playing. There’s a connection there that he was in all these scenarios that these guys were in, it’s fresh in his mind, the players know that. So I think that’s a tremendous help.
“And then (Dahlin has) put the time in. I see him, he’s ready in practice, he’s focused in meetings. So he’s in a real nice spot.”
Granato said Dahlin, the first overall pick in 2018, “wants more and more.”
“He seeks you out, he will seek me out to ask questions; what can he add to his game, what do I think, what do I see?” he said. “He’s asking my opinions all of the time. The engagement on that side, especially to a coach and a head coach, is a bit unique and very welcome.”
In lineup news, Granato said goalie Linus Ullmark will start tonight, his fourth nod in the last five games. Granato said winger Kyle Okposo had this morning off for maintenance and will play tonight.
The Sabres this morning also recalled defenseman Brandon Davidson and forward C.J. Smith to the taxi squad after a one-day stint with the Rochester Americans. They played in Friday’s 6-2 loss to the Syracuse Crunch.