Time to Panic for Rasmus Dahlin and the Sabres?
The pandemic took a toll on many players’ career trajectories so far. Pushing some older players to an early retirement, and some players in the CHL were stuck without a team to play for for most of the year.
But for young, recently drafted NHLers, some powered through the hurdles, while others haven't.
Players like Andrei Svechnikov, Quinn Hughes, and Brady Tkachuk, all from the same draft year as Rasmus Dahlin, are great examples of players who didn’t let the pandemic shortened seasons affect their value whatsoever. If anything, they showed the NHL that they are ready for anything that the league throws at them.
Now, these players were put into very different situations compared to Dahlin.
Andrei Svechnikov, a winger, joined a well-balanced team in Carolina, and was immediately given a chance to produce. In his second year, he amassed 61 points in 68 games, at almost a point per game. He had reliable linemates in Aho and Teravainen, and a number of veterans including Jordan Staal and Dougie Hamilton for support.
These factors may have inflated his stats somewhat, but if you were paying any attention at all, he did plenty on his own as well.
If Dahlin’s issue is his team, then Svechnikov might not be a fair example.
Quinn Hughes, on the other hand, joined a middling team in Vancouver. He was able to produce almost immediately, with 53 points in 68 games in his rookie year. To be fair, the Canucks had some young talent around him, including Bo Horvat and Elias Petterson. But that wouldn’t have meant anything if Hughes didn’t play his part, which he did, finishing 2nd in Calder voting.
One counterpoint might be that Hughes’ defensive partners have been very reliable through his first few years. Chris Tanev and Tyler Myers are both defensively sound and can move the puck well, allowing Hughes to use his vision and skating ability in full.
If Dahlin’s issue is his D-partner, then Hughes might not be a fair example.
Brady Tkachuk, though, was thrown right into a dumpster fire in Ottawa in his first year. Although he started with some veteran help with Mark Stone and Matt Duchene, they were quickly shipped off by the beginning of his second year.
This had seemingly no effect on his ability to produce goals, chances, and drive the net in his customary style. He has scored 20 goals every season except last year, instead scoring 17 goals in 56 games. Moreover, he has all of the other tools that teams want: hockey IQ, leadership, physicality, and peskiness. He showcases them on a nightly basis.
With Brady Tkachuk as a final example, there is seemingly no reason why Dahlin isn’t producing and performing to the expected standard that he was drafted for. So what’s going on here? Is Dahlin a bust?
Dahlin was drafted because he had all the tools. His skating, edgework, and vision had scouts drooling.
He shows flashes of his exceptional tools. However, he doesn’t seem to bring it consistently enough. If he attacked the offensive zone similarly to Cale Makar, and just wasn’t getting the puck luck, we could be patient.
But maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt. There was a time when he was compared to Victor Hedman, likely due to possessing all of the tools to be a great defenseman on both sides of the ice. His skating, vision, big frame, and outright ability to take over games was similar to Hedman.
In addition, Hedman didn’t immediately produce big numbers when he made the jump to the NHL. In fact, when you look at their stats side by side, Dahlin arguably has had a better start to his career. In his rookie year, Dahlin scored 44 points, good for 2nd all time amongst 18 year old rookie defencemen.
Hedman took a nice step in his 4th year, producing almost 0.5 PPG in 22:40 per night. His 5th year was his coming out party, with 55 points in 75 games. Since then, he has been arguably the best all-around defenceman in the league.
So there is definitely an argument to be made that Dahlin could have a breakout campaign next season, he is still only 21 years old.
The problem with this, is that when he was drafted, he was supposed to be the best defenceman in the NHL for years to come. So far, he has been leapfrogged by a number of d-men. Moritz Seider, drafted a year after him, is having a great rookie year in Detroit, and of course Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes, and Adam Fox have their sights set on the Norris for years to come. It’s hard to see Dahlin taking the throne at this point.
But, after drafting Owen Power 1st overall last year, the Dahlin could have a stellar partner for the foreseeable future. That’s all yet to be determined, by Dahlin himself.
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