Rasmus Dahlin: Boom or Bust
And the first pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft goes to the Buffalo Sabres! Finishing at the bottom of the standings doesn't guarantee a team gets the first overall pick as Buffalo knows all too well. The Sabres finished dead last in the 2013/14 and 2014/15 NHL seasons. It's hard work being the worst team in the NHL, just ask Ted Nolan.
For their effort, Buffalo was awarded the second overall pick after both of those seasons. If the result had been two first overall picks, the Sabres, instead of selecting Samson Reinhart in 2014 and Jack Eichel in 2015, they likely would have taken Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid. It's unknown if that would have changed the fortunes of the team but they would certainly look a lot different.
In 2017/18 Buffalo did it again. Another last place finish. That's three rock bottom finishes within a five season span. This time the result would be different. For the first time in more than three decades, the Buffalo Sabres would be selecting first in the draft. But wait, it gets better. There was a player coming out of Sweden who everyone, and I mean everyone, was touting as the next generational defenseman, a la Bobby Orr and Nicklas Lidstrom. That player was Rasmus Dahlin. Better still, 2018 is the year he became eligible for the NHL draft. Buffalo has seemingly struck gold.
Remember when the draft lottery was televised and the Sabres logo was revealed, symbolizing that Buffalo gets the first pick? Oh boy. Oh boy oh boy oh boy! Happy days for Buffalo! The Sabres are about to get a guy who might become the best defenseman ever! Fans rejoiced! There were parades and a holiday was created! Ok, that last sentence not so much but you get the idea.
Fast forward to 2021 and a second consecutive pandemic shortened season. Rasmus Dahlin is in his third year. He has finished with point totals in his first two seasons that make it look as though he is indeed on track for greatness. However, as many fans point out, there's a problem. Rasmus Dahlin plays defense like a sieve. He isn't good. Some fans have gone so far as to call him a bust and those fans are making their voices heard.
So let's address that. As I already stated, on paper it looks as though Dahlin may fulfil his potential, even though he is off to slow start this season with 3 points in 10 games. But does he pass the eye test? There are times he makes some major blunders on the ice which have allowed opportunities and goals for the opposing team. When it happens, it looks bad, real bad. It doesn't help that Dahlin sometimes highlights it by slamming his stick on the ice or some other angry outburst.
It's well documented that defensemen take longer to develop than other positions. Victor Hedman, another Swedish player and a top tier NHL defenseman, didn't have his first season over 40 points until he was 24. Erik Karlsson broke that barrier at age 21. Dahlin did it as an 18 y/o rookie. Dahlin is 20 now and still improving.
Dahlin is obviously an offensive defenseman and needs more work defensively. All the greatest offensive defensemen needed work defensively, some of them throughout their entire career. Did it make them a bust? Hell no! Does it make Dahlin a bust? Hell to the damn no! At 20 years old, Rasmus Dahlin is right where the Sabres want him to be, at the precipice of greatness.