BUFFALO -- As a boy growing up in Sweden, Rasmus Dahlin would watch Victor Hedman on television and be in awe.
Never in his wildest dreams, Dahlin admits now, did he think he'd one day play against one of his hockey heroes in an NHL game, let alone in their native country.
"Now it's going to happen, and it's unreal," the Buffalo Sabres defenseman said Wednesday. "It's awesome. I mean, I've been on the same ice surface as him, but to be able to do it at home in front of friends and family, it's unbelievable.
"I can't believe it's actually going to happen."
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Dahlin has barely been able to hide his giddiness since learning that the Sabres will face Hedman and the Tampa Bay Lightning in two games at Ericsson Globe in Stockholm on Nov. 8 and 9 as part of the 2019 NHL Global Series. The games will provide the stage to showcase the latest in a line of elite Swedish defensemen, following in the footsteps of Hockey Hall of Famers like Borje Salming and Nicklas Lidstrom.
Hedman was selected by the Lightning with the No. 2 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft and has been a mainstay on the Tampa Bay blue line ever since. He became a hero to young players throughout Sweden, including Dahlin, who watched Hedman reach the pinnacle when he won the Norris Trophy as the top defenseman in the NHL at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas on June 20, 2018.
Two days after Hedman received the honor, Dahlin was selected by the Sabres with the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas. In the months that followed, Hedman has been impressed by Sweden's latest generational defenseman.
Video: WSH@BUF: Dahlin one-times PPG from the circle
"I think Rasmus, the way he has played this year, as the first overall pick, it comes with a certain pressure and certain expectations, and just the way he plays, it blows my mind," Hedman said. "The consistency he plays with, the calmness in his game, he trusts his instincts, doesn't sacrifice his defense for good offense. He's very mature in the way he plays. We're in the same division (Atlantic), and I get to see him a lot and he is just going to keep getting better, better and better. Hopefully, I have a few years where I try to push him and be at my best. I'm just looking forward to having a good game against him in Stockholm.
"When you look at him play on the ice, he is confident and believes in himself. He's a great kid. I've had my eyes on him for a long time. He's kind of gone through the same things I went through before my draft. Now 10 years later, you look at all the social media and the media attention, and it is even more now. You just have to clap your hands for the way he has handled himself."
Dahlin was in disbelief when informed of Hedman's comments.
"He didn't really say that, did he?" Dahlin said. "That's overwhelming. I've never even met him. I can't even believe he's watched me play."
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For his part, Dahlin spent plenty of time watching Hedman this season. Before each of the four Sabres-Lightning games, Dahlin sat in the stands for Tampa Bay's morning skate and took mental notes of all the nuances in Hedman's game.
"I'd follow him in warmups and say to myself, 'Is this for real?' It's really special," Dahlin said.
It's worked for Dahlin, who got his 39th point (eight goals, 31 assists) in his 73rd game Wednesday, passing Bobby Orr for second-most points by an 18-year-old defenseman in NHL history, behind Sabres coach Phil Housley, who had 57.
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Hedman grew up idolizing Lidstrom. Now he has up-and-comers like Dahlin looking up to him in the same way.
"It's tough to see myself like that," Hedman said. "I want to be a great role model for younger kids. I have my hockey school in my hometown, and we celebrate 10 years this summer. … They are young kids, the youngest are 7 or 8 years old, but just a love of the game. They are super excited that I am there, and I bring a couple of guys from the hometown (Ornskoldsvik); (Sabres goalie) Linus Ullmark is from my hometown, the Sedins (Daniel and Henrik) have been there, my brother. To see the guys that have made it makes them push even more. It's mostly about having fun.
"I like to be a good role model, I like to put myself in their shoes when I was their age to see guys like Peter [Forsberg]. … And to see those guys, you are stunned and you want to become them. That is the kind of player I want to be and the kind of person I want to be too."
Hedman said the atmosphere for the games against the Sabres should be unbelievable.
"Playing in Sweden is phenomenal," he said. "It's like a soccer game with drums and everything like that. I can't wait."
Neither can Dahlin.
"My friends and family will be there, and it will be unbelievable," he said. "And the influence it will have on kids there will be amazing. For them to see an NHL game live in their home country, it will be so impactful."
Just like watching Hedman was for him.
NHL.com Senior Director of Editorial Shawn P. Roarke contributed to this story