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Dahlin has 'amazing' night as No. 1 pick by Sabres in 2018 NHL Draft

Defenseman celebrates with family, feels love from Buffalo fans

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

DALLAS -- The Buffalo Sabres took the stage at American Airlines Center on Friday, and the clock counted down to the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft. In Row C of Section 120, Martin Dahlin leaned across to say something to his son Rasmus.

A word of advice? A joke to break the tension?

"Wayne Gretzky was sitting over there," Martin said of The Great One, partner and vice chair of Oilers Entertainment Group, who was at the Edmonton Oilers table. "And we wanted to have a family photo together with him."

 

[RELATED: Dahlin selected No. 1 by Sabres at NHL Draft | Fantasy projection for Dahlin | 2018 NHL Draft first-round results, analysis]

 

The best part of the draft each year is watching teenagers leave the stands and enter the NHL world, NHL fans taking steps toward becoming NHL players. For players like 18-year-old Rasmus Dahlin, a defenseman from Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League, it is a big, beautiful blur.

When Sabres general manager Jason Botterill called his name, Dahlin hid a slight smile behind his right hand. He turned to his left and hugged his brother, Felix, 20, whose hockey career ended because of arthritis. He hugged his sister, Ella, 13, his father and his mother, Asa.

Video: A mic'd-up Dahlin soaks in No. 1 overall selection

He said he couldn't remember what went through his head but it was probably, "Finally."

"Not to get drafted No. 1, but to get drafted," he said. "It's been a dream since I was a little kid. This night is amazing."

Dahlin stepped down onto the draft floor and took off his suit coat. 

"Dah-lin!" Sabres fans chanted. "Dah-lin!"

Video: Sabres fans react to selection of Rasmus Dahlin

He stepped on stage and met the Sabres brass, hugging, shaking hands, telling Botterill and coach Phil Housley how super excited he was. He pulled a blue Dahlin No. 18 Sabres sweater over his head, posed for photos and left for a two-hour media tour, followed by hockey paparazzi.

First, TV interviews to the right of the stage. Sportsnet's Tara Slone showed Dahlin a video of Mats Sundin, the only other Swede selected No. 1 in an NHL Draft, who went to the Quebec Nordiques in 1989 and on to a Hall of Fame career.

"Welcome to the National Hockey League," Sundin told Dahlin. "We are No. 1."

"Oh, my God," Dahlin told Slone. "I can't sit here and say how I feel right now, because it's too much emotions. I'm so super happy. That's one of the coolest things I ever heard."

Next, more interviews. Dahlin sat upon a podium in front of a 2018 NHL Draft backdrop, facing a half-circle of reporters, cameramen and photographers. He took a sip of water and answered questions. He was cool and calm, and kept his sense of humor in English and Swedish.

He shrugged off the idea of being a savior ("The only thing I can do is to bring all I can to that team to win hockey games."), cracked a joke about Housley wanting to play fast ("If he was saying that we were playing a slow game, I would do that too.") and eased the pressure on himself ("Why put pressure on you when you can play the game because you love it?").

Then, more interviews.

Then, autographs. Dahlin signed hats and pucks and posters.

Then, photos. Dahlin posed with and without gloves, with and without a 2018 NHL Draft puck, in front of white and blue backdrops. He took group photos with the No. 2 pick, right wing Andrei Svechnikov of the Carolina Hurricanes, and the No. 3 pick, center Jesperi Kotkaniemi of the Montreal Canadiens.

As the top three picks walked down the hall toward the draft floor, they bumped into the No. 8 pick, defenseman Adam Boqvist of the Chicago Blackhawks. Dahlin ran up to his fellow Swede, slapped him five and give him a hug. They tried to talk, but the top three picks were whisked away. 

Dahlin took more photos with Svechnikov and Kotkaniemi on the draft floor, then ducked backstage for more individual photos. He did a phone interview in the hallway, as at least eight people filmed him and others scribbled notes.

"Hi," he said as he picked up the phone, introducing himself as if he had to. "It's Rasmus Dahlin."

He went back onto the draft floor to do a radio interview, then started to duck backstage again when a few Sabres fans asked him for selfies. He took one. He took another and another.

"Congratulations!" one fan said.

"Good luck in Buffalo, buddy!" another said.

"They're great fans," Dahlin said. "I've heard so many great things about them. They love hockey and that city, and I can see that when they come to me. They know me, and I don't even play in the NHL."

Yet.

"We're 98 percent done," Sabres vice president of media relations Chris Bandura told him.

Dahlin walked backstage and turned right. At the end of the hall stood his family, his mother clapping, his dad beaming. 

Dahlin hugged his brother, his sister, his mother and finally his father, holding the last embrace as the paparazzi filmed and snapped.

It was the end and the beginning.

"Fantastic," his father said.

"Champagne," his mother said. "We're going to celebrate."

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