Cover Photo courtesy of Getty Images
When NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly revealed on Saturday night that the Buffalo Sabres had won the rights to the first overall selection in the 2018 NHL draft, Western New Yorkers rejoiced.
The Sabres had finished in last place twice before in 2013 and ’14 and didn’t win the draft lottery. Due to the region having somewhat of an inferiority complex, some thought it would never happen, and that the team’s recent string of bad luck would continue.
Not anymore. With the Sabres having secured the top pick for just the third time in franchise history (Gilbert Perreault in ’70, Pierre Turgeon in ’87), the team will likely select Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin and fill a need that was sorely lacking for several years.
Arguably, the team’s biggest Achilles’ heel over the past seven years has been an inability to keep the puck out of their own net. With Dahlin – ranked as the number one skater on NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of international players for this year’s draft – the Sabres will fill that need and then some.
“Dahlin is an exceptionally talented prospect who will be able to contribute, influence and impact a team’s fortunes much in the same way that defensemen Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators) and Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning) have in the NHL,” director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr recently said to the league’s website.
“If you wanted to pick one player from the 2018 draft who could potentially be viewed as a generational talent, Rasmus would be the only candidate. There is that much respect for him and his abilities.”
The accolades for Dahlin have been numerous. Having been named the top defenseman at this year’s World Junior Championships in Buffalo and also competing at this year’s Winter Olympics in South Korea – becoming the youngest player to participate in the tournament since 1984 – he is projected to become an elite defenseman, something that Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom took note of earlier this year.
“I instantly thought of Brian Leetch and his skating, especially during his years with the (New York) Rangers,” Lidstrom said to hockeysverige.se. “He also had the courage to skate with the puck, use his skating and take advantage of space when he had the chance… I can see the similarities between how they play.”
With Dahlin set to become perhaps the best rearguard taken first overall since the Islanders selected Denis Potvin in 1973, Dahlin has the potential to not just become the best defensemen in Sabres history, but also among the very best to ever play the game.
No one to wear the blue and gold on the team’s backend – Tim Horton, Jim Schoenfeld, Phil Housley, Mike Ramsey, Alexei Zhitnik, Jay McKee and Brian Campbell included – possessed this type of talent. With the ability to perform well in all situations and his ridiculous skillset – his shot, mobility, physicality, hockey I.Q. and positioning all translate well to the pros – it is easy to envision Dahlin anchoring the Sabres’ blue line for the next decade-plus.
Sabres fans, appreciate what is to come. It will be yours – and this writer’s – privilege to observe Dahlin’s talent night in and night out.