BUFFALO -- The strongest impression Rasmus Dahlin made for the Buffalo Sabres during the Prospects Challenge at HarborCenter this past weekend may have happened off the ice.
The No. 1 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft bonded with the Sabres' two previous first-round picks, Casey Mittelstadt (No. 7 in the 2017 NHL Draft) and Alexander Nylander (No. 8 in the 2016 NHL Draft), forming relationships with his fellow rookies that could lead to a resurgence in Buffalo.
"It's very important to be comfortable with your teammates so when the season starts, you enjoy playing together ... that's the biggest thing," Dahlin said. "On the ice, you talk a lot out there with your friends and you compete together, do something together, and that means a lot."
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While Dahlin, the 18-year-old phenom from Sweden, will likely be a top-two pair defenseman out of training camp, forwards Mittelstadt and Nylander are looking to earn fulltime roles.
All three players made a strong showing at the Prospects Challenge. Dahlin had two goals and an assist in two games. Nylander had three goals and two assists, and Mittelstadt had three assists in three games.
"[Mittelstadt] was a great, funny guy," Dahlin said. "He's young and so skilled out there. Everyone knows how good he is and I enjoy hanging out with him.
"[Nylander] is Swedish so he talks a lot of Swedish with me. He's also great on the ice, can score from everywhere and he has great stick-handling and hockey sense."
Mittelstadt, 19, had five points (one goal, four assists) in six games with the Sabres at the end of last season. He signed a three-year, entry-level contract March 26, and scored his first NHL goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning on April 6.
Video: BUF@TBL: Mittelstadt nets PPG for first career tally
Nylander, 20, had 27 points (eight goals, 19 assists) and a plus-3 rating in 51 games for Rochester of the American Hockey League last season. He's looking forward to getting to main camp on time this season after missing out last season with a lower-body injury.
"Last year I was injured and now I'm just trying to take every moment and do the best I can," Nylander said. "I've been training for this the whole summer. I'm going to try and get a spot on the team and do as best I can every time on the ice."
Nylander and Mittelstadt formed good chemistry on the top line during a 10-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the final game of the Prospects Challenge on Monday. They combined for two goals and five assists, all in the third period.
"As you get to know guys better, I think it just makes everything more fun," Mittelstadt said. "You're just doing it with your buddies, scoring goals and making nice plays. I think it helps to keep things loose and, when the time comes, you know you can go to battle with them and know they'll go to battle for you."
Nylander said he and Mittelstadt play a very similar style.
Video: BUF@TBL: Nylander tips home his first career goal
"We both like to pass and shoot the puck, so everybody has to be ready when one of us has it," Nylander said. "I think we played well together."
General manager Jason Botterill is looking forward to the Sabres having all three players in main camp, which starts Thursday, to provide internal competition with the established players like center Jack Eichel, 21; right wing Sam Reinhart, 22; left wing Jeff Skinner, 26; and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, 23.
"You're looking for guys to battle and bring passion to the game and I thought Casey did that; obviously a big part of his game is creating offense and he did that in the tournament so hopefully that puts him in a good spot heading to main camp," Botterill said. "I think [Mittelstadt] is always going to put a lot of pressure on himself but he's handled those situations a lot in the past.
"We've seen a different Alex Nylander throughout the summer and it's a step in the right direction being healthy and playing in this tournament. It was disappointing for him last year getting injured and then playing catch-up, but we've seen him putting the time in the weight room and he looks stronger and more confident."