BUFFALO -- Mattias Samuelsson is earning his way to a future with the Buffalo Sabres both on and off the ice.
After an impressive freshman season with Western Michigan University, where he had 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 35 games, the 19-year-old defenseman learned he'd been selected as one of four alternate captains for 2019-20; one other will be a junior and two will be seniors, as will captain Hugh McGing, a St. Louis Blues prospect.
"It was super cool. Coach [Andy] Murray told me a couple of days before they announced it that they wanted me to wear a letter," Samuelsson said during Sabres development camp in June. "It's not common for a sophomore to wear a letter in college, so it's super special to me. I'm going to play the same style of game with or without one, but to know that coaches look at me as a leader and players do, too, is pretty special."
Players filled out a questionnaire featuring different leadership categories and asked to list teammates who best fit the criteria. Samuelsson, who was selected by the Sabres in the second round (No. 32) in the 2018 NHL Draft, rated high in numerous categories. Only Murray and his staff saw the results and had the final say in selecting the leadership group.
"(He) certainly [leads] by example more than anything, but he has a voice that people listen to," Murray said. "Also, just a tremendous sense of humor. He puts a smile on my face every time I talk to him. He's mature beyond his years."
Samuelsson (6-foot-4, 217 pounds) credits Murray for much of his success last season, as well as the experience of playing for and winning a silver medal with the United States at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship.
"I just learned a lot about what will make me successful and what I need to do to get to the next level," Samuelsson said. "Andy Murray, he's a legend. He brings it out in me.
"Off the ice, just what kind of person I am and what type of people I want to be surrounded by. Obviously, college has a lot of distractions, so you have to find your niche and where you want to be and what will help you accomplish your dreams."
The progress Samuelsson showed throughout the season didn't go unnoticed and Murray expects that to fuel the defenseman's development even further.
"To me, he's an outstanding player and will be a Sabre for a long time," he said. "The mental maturity part of the game and just understanding with another year and moving to the next level that you need to make certain adjustments, and recognizing that every puck is important and you have to be consistent shift by shift."
Samuelsson is the third member of his family to be coached by Murray. His older brother, Lukas, will be a junior for the Broncos this season and their father, Kjell, who played 813 NHL games, played under Murray when he was an assistant with the Philadelphia Flyers and remains friends with him to this day.
"He's got great hockey sense, he plays the game smart," Murray said of Mattias. "His dad was a fierce competitor, and so is Mattias. … He's the son of Kjell Samuelsson. That kind of says it all."