Published by hockeybuzz.com, 6-23-2018
To no one's surprise, Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin was selected first overall by the Buffalo Sabres last night to kick off a rather uneventful 2018 NHL Draft.
The 6'3" 185 lb. defenseman brings his franchise-changing game to a Sabres team that has struggled the last several years. Buffalo embarked on a rebuild, purposely dove to the bottom of the league two-years running, started on the road to respect then fell to last place last season. The NHL Draft Lottery was unkind to the Sabres in 2014 and 2105 as their last-place finished netted them the second overall pick but they year it smiled upon them as they won the rights to draft Dahlin.
The superlatives thrown at Dahlin and his game have been endless, yet warranted. He's an extremely gifted skater with a very high hockey IQ that lets him see things on the ice as if it were in slow motion. His highlight reels almost inevitably included rushes through a maze of players on the opposition who can't get the puck from him. Not on the highlight film is his game-to-game play from the back end where scouts have touted how well he starts the transition game from his own end through laser precision passes to the forwards.
As an 18 yr. old, his defense needs a little work but he has all the tools which includes great stickwork, excellent body positioning and angles plus great turns to defend an on-rushing player. He's pretty strong in front of the net and has been known to lay out some pretty good hits, but will need to bulk up a tad to be able to handle the best and strongest that the world has to offer at the NHL level.
What has come across so surprisingly during this whole process, however, is how maturely Dahlin has handled the media crush. His poise off the ice is equal to his poise on the ice and he fields questions as if he's been doing this for years. Dahlin was asked by the Sabres Brian Duff last night if he was an emotional guy to which Dahlin responded, "Yeah. I pretty much keep it inside." With a rather calm demeanor, a shrug and a little smile he continued saying, "Yeah, I'm super emotional right now, actually."
You couldn't tell.
Perhaps Jourdon LaBarber put it best when he wrote, "Dahlin's humility off the ice seems ironic, considering his play on the ice is anything but humble."
The Dahlin-era in Buffalo has begun.
There were a record 14 defensemen taken off the board in the first round yesterday. Which was expected. It was a real good crop with all of them having the puck-moving traits that make for the defenseman d jour in the NHL today. The run on defensemen after Dahlin was selected first overall somewhat surprisingly began when Quinn Hughes was taken No. 7 by the Vancouver Canucks.
Hughes and fellow d-man Adam Boqvist (No. 8) were expected to go a little higher as many of the draft analysts rated them in the top five or six of this class.
At a draft where there was pretty much a consensus top-four featuring Dahlin and RW Andrei Svechnikov at Nos. 1 and 2 plus wingers Brady Tkachuk and Filip Zadina flip-flopping between Nos. 3 and 4, the Montreal Canadiens, in a very NFL-like move, opted to take center Jesper Kotkaniemi with the third-overall pick.
The Habs have been at the epicenter of trade rumors surrounding Buffalo center Ryan O'Reilly. With a dearth of talent down the middle, Montreal was said to be going after O'Reilly with some implying that the third-overall pick could possibly be involved. But the Canadiens kept it and much like NFL teams do when trying to land a franchise quarterback with their first pick, took the best center on the board.
Quality centers are hard to come by in the NHL. It's not that Kotkaniemi doesn't have top-six or even top-line potential, but it seemed to be somewhat of a reach for the Habs as they drafted for a position of need.
The same might be said for the Arizona Coyotes who drafted center Barrett Hayton who was generally considered amongst a group in the 11-20 range. They recently traded for Montreal's Alex Galchenyuk who they look to as a center despite the Habs punting that notion when trading him. 'Yotes GM John Chayka is a huge analytics fan so maybe he saw some numbers that jumped out at him, bur for all intents and purposes, Arizona's pick of Hayton at No. 5 was the surprise of the top-five.
Tkachuk went No. 4 to the Ottawa Senators who may need to top end defensemen if Erik Karlsson bolts via free agency next season. However, the took a player that was clearly the best player available. Dropping to No. 6 was Zadina who many thought was a top-three pick.
Heading down the draft all the names that one would associate with their pre-draft rankings made it into the picks until the Columbus Blue Jackets selected center Liam Foudy with the 18th-overall selection. The Philadelphia Flyers followed by picking another center in Jay O'Brien who was ranked in the lower second round then the Los Angeles Kings selected a center in Rasmus Kupari who dropped a few spots compared to his ranking.
Defenseman Ryan Merkely, who has top-10 or even top-five talent but had been the subject of reports concerning off ice maturity issues, was selected by the San Jose' Sharks with the 21st pick. He'll join a franchise in San Jose just re-signed a very talented winger in Evander Kane who's known for some off-ice issues of his own.
After some rankings/draft stability things began to get a bit out of whack leaving defenseman Rasmus Sandin, who had a top-20 ranking, there for the Toronto Maple Leafs at No. 29.
The biggest drop came at the expense of center Joseph Veleno who was ranked consistently in that 11-15 range before falling to the Red Wings at No. 30. Detroit used the pick they got from the expansion Vegas Golden Knights to select Veleno, which is rather ironic in itself. The Wings were the model organization as they made the playoffs 25 straight years, which included three Stanley Cups, but sent forward Tomas Tatar to the Knights for their 2018 first rounder as Vegas was bolstering their lineup for a playoff run that would take them to the Cup finals.
Finishing off the first round was the Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals who selected Russian defensemen Alexander Alexeyev.
Cheers to you, Ovie!
Rounds 2-7 begin today at 11 am as Buffalo is once again ready to start the draft.
The Sabres have plenty of options there which includes selecting from a number of players who had first-round rankings but dropped. Forwards Noel Serron and centers Akil Thomas and Ryan Mcleod were all ranked in the top-16 North American Skaters by Central Scouting while defenseman Jared McIsaac was ranked 13th and fellow d-man Bode Wilde came in at No. 17.
Having projected first round talent in those numbers dropping to Buffalo gives them plenty of options which includes a trade-down. The Sabres do not have a third round pick thanks to last summer's trade with the Minnesota Wild and won't have another selection after No. 32 until pick 94. As mentioned in a previous blog, that's a prime area to land a goalie, which the Sabres system could really use.
I look to the Montreal Canadiens as a trade partner in that scenario. The Habs have four picks in the second round this year and perhaps they'd be interested in moving from No. 35 up to No. 32. Although they probably wouldn't give up pick 38 in the process, perhaps one of their late rounders (Nos. 56 or 62) could be had.
Perhaps Wilde, a 6'2" 198 lb. right-handed defenseman from the US National Program, could be the pick. He's an excellent skater with a great shot who could help fill a RHD void in the system but like other high-end offensive d-prospects, needs some work in his own end.