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World Juniors

Dahlin turns to future after heartbreaking loss in World Junior final

Named tournament's top defenseman, helped chances of being second Sweden-born player taken No. 1 in NHL Draft

by Mike Zeisberger @zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

BUFFALO -- Rasmus Dahlin's stick was broken. So was his heart.

Two days have passed since Dahlin violently slammed his stick against the KeyBank Center boards in frustration after Sweden's 3-1 loss to Canada in the title game at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship on Friday. Labelled as the future face of the NHL, there was plenty of anguish on it when the final horn sounded, symbolized by the tears tricking down his cheeks.

It is an image etched in the minds of all who saw him, one he hopefully can put behind him. At this point, it's his future that he needs to turn his attention to.

It's a bright one at that, too. Just ask Victor Hedman, the top defensemen of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

As the projected No. 1 pick at the NHL Entry Draft in Dallas on June 22-23, Dahlin, 17, has often been compared to Hedman, the highest-chosen Swedish defenseman to date (No. 2 in 2009). Hedman said he's never spoken to Dahlin before but is impressed by what he's seen.

 

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"I've watched him on the highlights and on YouTube," Hedman said. "His skills are ridiculous. Some of the plays I've seen him make are amazing.

"He's much better than I was coming into the League."

Dahlin finished with six points (all assists) at the WJC and was named the tournament's top defenseman. In the process, he solidified his status as the frontrunner to be picked No. 1 in the Draft ahead of forward Andrei Svechnikov, who had five points (all assists) for Russia.

But the individual honors meant little for Dahlin. For him, the difference between gold and silver was the difference between jubilation and devastation.

As such, hearing Hedman's praise, while flattering, did little to erase the sting of the loss to Canada.

"Right now, of course it's fun to hear, but it's more about this …," Dahlin said, attempting to digest the reality of finishing second.

"It's tough. It's just so tough. (Winning gold) was everything to me. So to come so close …"

Video: Reacting to Canada's win over Sweden for the gold

This was yet another example of Dahlin's competitive nature, which impressed scouts throughout the tournament. So did his improved defensive play, which caused his stock to rise even more.

In fact, should he be picked No. 1 in June, he'll be joining some elite company.

In 1989, forward Mats Sundin became the first Sweden-born player to be selected No. 1 when he was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques. Five months from now, Dahlin will attempt to replicate that feat.

Cue the hype, which will continue to mushroom in the days and weeks ahead.

Henrik Sedin can relate to what Dahlin is going through. The Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, were drafted No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, by the Vancouver Canucks in 1999.

"In Sweden we dealt with the pressure for three years prior to that," Henrik said. "In his case, coming over here, a lot of it depends on which team he is going to go to and how he gets treated.

"We got drafted by a Canadian team. It's a hockey market. And it was tough right away. The team did whatever it could to get us through the first couple of years and we had plenty of support from teammates and those around us. So that helped.

"But there's going to be pressure, for sure."

Henrik said he will be available to offer Dahlin advice in the event the young defenseman reaches out to him about things like how to handle the spotlight.

"Of course," Henrik said. "But in the end, it's all about enjoying the journey. There's nothing you can do about it other than wake up every morning and enjoy the things you need to do. That's not going to change whether you are drafted No. 1 or No. 50. It's the same deal.

"Of course, there is going to be pressure. But if he's as good a player as advertised, he should be fine."

It might take days, even weeks, for the heartache of the loss to Canada on Friday to subside. But with Swedish hockey icons like Hedman and Henrik Sedin in his corner, at least he has plenty of support as his career moves forward.

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