Rasmus Dahlin will play against NHL peers for the first time when the 18-year-old defenseman, chosen No. 1 by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2018 NHL Draft, joins teammates for the Prospects Challenge at HarborCenter beginning Friday.
The Sabres host the round-robin tournament, featuring prospects from the New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins. Each team will play three games in four days.
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"I'm just so motivated to win hockey games so I'll bring everything I can to this team and try to win hockey games," Dahlin said in June just before the start of Buffalo's development camp, his first time on the ice as a member of the Sabres. "That's what I think about."
The Prospects Challenge will give Dahlin (6-foot-3, 185 pounds) and many other top players in the prospect pipeline an opportunity to shake off the rust prior to the start of NHL training camp on Sept. 13.
"We're all excited [to see Dahlin] but I'm not sure anyone is more excited than he is," Sabres assistant general manager Randy Sexton said. "This young man has really embraced the city of Buffalo, embraced our fans.
"I think for us, this is a good first intermediary step for [Dahlin] … and others to test themselves against players who have played in the NHL and are equal if not or more established prospects."
Video: Rasmus Dahlin takes the No. 1 spot on the list
Dahlin had 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists), 30 hits and 36 blocked shots in 41 games for Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League last season. He became the highest-scoring under-18 defenseman in the history of the SHL, the country's top professional league, with 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 67 games over two full seasons. He was named best defenseman at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship, with six assists for Sweden, and was the youngest player by seven years on his country's roster for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.
"What's impressed me most about Rasmus is his maturity," Sexton said. "The talent, skill and hockey sense speaks for itself, but what has made a huge impression on me is his level of maturity. That will help in many ways his transition from the SHL to the NHL, particularly as an 18-year-old with high expectations as the first overall pick."
It will be entirely up to Sabres coach Phil Housley what role Dahlin will play as a rookie this season, Sexton said. Whatever that role is, the left-handed shot is expected to average between 18-20 minutes a game and begin the season in a top-four role.
It will be interesting to see whether Housley opts to put Dahlin with right-handed Rasmus Ristolainen on the top pair, or veteran Marco Scandella.
"We do our best to put our young players in situations to insulate them the best we can to give them the highest probability to succeed," Sexton said. "If they struggle, so be it, and if they succeed then they'll get exposed to greater opportunities. But how [Housley] will use Rasmus is something he'll sort out down the road."
The Prospects Challenge will offer Sabres fans a first glimpse of what Sexton said he hopes will be a promising future along the blue line.
"Part of what makes our tournament great is the fan participation; the fans embrace this tournament and that really adds to the overall environment," Sexton said. "We were lucky last year with [Devils center] Nico Hischier being the No. 1 pick and playing here and, this year, with Dahlin here after being chosen No. 1. Our fans are getting an opportunity to see high-end young players who are entering the NHL.
"Every young player develops at his own rate, and our job is to make sure we put them in an environment where they're challenged and pushed, but have all the support and resources needed to improve as quickly as they can."