BUFFALO -- Rasmus Dahlin waited long enough for the chance to play against his peers and provide Buffalo Sabres fans a sneak peek of what they could expect this season in his first game of the Prospects Challenge at HarborCenter on Friday.
The defenseman didn't disappoint, scoring two goals and getting an assist, exhibiting poise and decisiveness and delivering a big hit in a 6-4 win against the New Jersey Devils prospects.
[RELATED: Dahlin, Svechnikov, Pettersson take spotlight at rookie tournaments]
"It was a lot of fun playing in front of all the fans," Dahlin said. "It was crowded and loud so it couldn't get much better.
"I think the biggest challenge for me was getting back into it after the offseason and playing real hockey again. It was fun."
On a Sabres roster full of talented prospects, Dahlin (6-foot-2, 181 pounds) was the featured attraction in front of a standing room-only crowd in his first game since being chosen No. 1 in the 2018 NHL Draft.
"[Dahlin] knows when to go and when not to go, and those things are hard to teach; his instincts are amazing," said coach Chris Taylor, who coaches Buffalo's American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester.
Dahlin, paired with William Borgen (Rochester), scored his second goal 4:27 into the third period off a rebound from the left circle to ignite the crowd and give the Sabres a 5-4 lead. He poked the puck away from a Devils player to spring Tage Thompson at center ice for a shorthanded goal at 12:12 for a 6-4 advantage.
"A lot of guys wouldn't have scored his second goal -- it was a great shot off the pads -- but a lot of defensemen would have probably pulled back on that," Taylor said. "He's got those instincts to go in there."
Video: POSTGAME: DAHLIN
On his first shift, Dahlin skated down the left wing before shooting just wide of the right post. He also did a splendid job quarterbacking Buffalo's power play, settling pucks with ease and hitting teammates with precision passes.
"An effective power play is one that moves the puck fast and gets a lot of shots on net," Dahlin said.
He brought fans to their feet when he leveled Devils forward Ryan Schmelzer with a solid body check along the boards at center ice.
The edge in Dahlin's game shouldn't come as a surprise. He had 30 hits and 36 blocked shots in 41 games for Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League the past two seasons.
"That's the way he should play; I expect every player to play that way," Taylor said.
Dahlin, 18, became the highest scoring under-18 defenseman in the history of the SHL, the country's top professional league, with 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in two full seasons. He was named best defenseman at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship, with six assists for Sweden, and was the youngest player by seven years on his country's roster for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.
Dahlin's debut was a success but, to him, it was all in a night's work.
"I was really excited before the game, and it was great we won," Dahlin said.
Dahlin's first goal came 11:18 into the second when a quick shot from the left point deflected off the skate of Devils defenseman Tariq Hammond.
"He played a really good game, and not only because he scored a couple of good goals and picked up an assist, but he was really good with the puck and made a lot of space for other players," said Sabres forward Victor Olofsson, a teammate of Dahlin's in Frolunda the past two seasons.
"I'm used to seeing him play this way. He always wants to get better, works hard every day. I'm happy he got this start and to show the guys how good he really is."
Photos courtesy of Bill Wippert/Buffalo Sabres