Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin wasn't aware what it meant to be a generational talent when asked about it, but he could find himself in that category prior to the 2018 NHL Draft if he continues to build upon his already impressive hockey resume.
When Dahlin questioned the meaning of a generational player, he was reminded of recent No. 1 picks Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers in 2015) and Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs, 2016), and how they've dominated so early in their NHL careers.
"I don't think of myself as a [possible generational talent]," Dahlin said. "The NHL is the best league in the world and I always watch hockey. To someday have a chance to play in the NHL would be unreal."
Dahlin, who is projected as a first-round pick as an "A"-rated skater in NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list for the 2018 draft in Dallas on June 22-23, looks like he'll one day get that chance.
He gained plenty of attention as the youngest player in the Swedish Hockey League last season and the youngest participant at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship with two points (one goal, one assist) for Sweden. It was quite the experience for Dahlin (6-foot-2, 181 pounds), who proved more than capable of holding his own against men despite his age (16).
"When we picked [Dahlin] to represent Sweden at the WJC last season, we felt he was a perfect fit as a seventh defenseman because he could change the pace of the game," Sweden national junior team coach Tomas Monten said. "It was a big step for him but going through that experience is his advantage entering this season. I think he matured a lot and he's getting a lot stronger. We feel he's one of the highly skilled defensemen we have and want to try him as a top-3 along the blue line (at the 2018 WJC)."
Dahlin, who turned 17 on April 13, is expected to have an even bigger role at the 2018 tournament. He made his SHL debut last season with Frolunda and had three points (one goal, two assists) in 26 regular-season games, and five points (three goals, two assists) in 14 playoff games. He has two points (one goal, one assist) and five shots on goal in four games as the youngest player for Frolunda this season.
"In Sweden, we say [Dahlin] has the vision of a mosquito," Frolunda general manager Fredrik Sjostrom said. "If you try and hit a mosquito, the mosquito can get away because it can process in slow motion. That's kind of how Rasmus is. He never gets caught or is put in a bad situation because it doesn't ever come to that. He can see where the guy is going to go and can move the other way. It looks easy, but I know it isn't. I played this game, and I could never do the things he does."
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Many believe Dahlin might be the No. 1 pick at the 2018 draft; he'd be the first Sweden-born player since Mats Sundin in 1989 to the Quebec Nordiques to be chosen first.
"His greatest assets are his skating and ability to adjust to the play on the fly," Monten said. "He can play both ends of the ice and, for a skilled defenseman, he's really good defensively. He's pretty big already and hasn't yet grown into his body."
Monten knows Dahlin will have a big bullseye on his back this season as a projected top pick.
"I'll try and focus on my own things and just try and keep it simple; focus on my own hockey," Dahlin said. "The one thing I learned last year was that there's so much media coverage and you really have to be yourself. When I started playing for Frolunda's senior team, I learned very much how to be professional."
Dahlin is a left-handed shot and can play either the left or right point. He can quarterback a power play and enjoys the physical aspect of the game.
"I like it very much when there's hitting in the game," Dahlin said. "This is a tough game, so it doesn't bother me. I like it when the game is on fire."
Dahlin said he played a lot of hockey with his older brother, Felix, when he was younger and his dad coached him until he turned 15. Felix, a right wing, played junior hockey in Sweden.
"I chose defense because I feel it's a lot more fun playing defense," Rasmus Dahlin said. "The D-zone is very important but you can also jump up and score some goals. I try to be a two-way defenseman, with more of an offensive game.
Some scouts see subtle similarities in skating between Dahlin and a young Erik Karlsson, a defenseman with the Ottawa Senators.
"When I was younger I very much enjoyed watching (Hockey Hall of Famer) Peter Forsberg and when he retired I began watching Karlsson," Dahlin said. "It's fun to hear that but I can't even think about comparing with [Karlsson] because he's so good. He's the best player in the world. His passes are unreal and he has a great hockey mind."