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Samuelsson feels ready for pro competition

Defenseman saw entry-level contract as best step for his development

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Mattias Samuelsson took a few days to digest the sudden end to his sophomore season, then had a decision to make. 

Samuelsson decided the time was right to turn pro, ultimately agreeing to a three-year, entry-level deal with the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday. 

"I think I got a lot better in my two years in college," Samuelsson said by phone. "I learned a lot. I played for a pretty legendary coach in Andy Murray. … I feel like at this point in my development, to be challenged with professional hockey players is something I need."

As was the case throughout sports, the end of Samuelsson's season developed quickly. On March 12, he and his teammates practiced in preparation to host St. Cloud State in the opening round of the NCHC Tournament the following day. 

St. Cloud - already in town for the series - took the ice for practice next. By the time their session was done, the news had come out that the tournament was canceled. 

"Obviously, we knew what was going on in the world," Samuelsson said. "But it all came so fast. Like, within a couple days, we were ready to play and then, like, our season was over."

Despite its untimely conclusion, Samuelsson ends his college career pleased with the growth he's shown since the Sabres selected him with the 32nd overall pick in 2018. He was touted then for his size (he's listed at 6-foot-4) and his maturity.

He continued to build on his reputation as a defenseman who can take care of his own zone - he was a finalist for the NCHC Defensive Defenseman of the Year Award as a sophomore - but felt he added an offensive edge to his game, too. 

"I think my offensive game has been developing for the last couple years, a little bit each year," he said. "I think then just little details in the defensive zone with your stick. As you get higher in levels, your details need to get better and I think I have there."

Samuelsson said he was in frequent communication with the Sabres throughout his the past two seasons, receiving feedback from development coaches after in-person visits in addition to texting often.

"We are very pleased with Mattias' growth both at Western Michigan and on the international stage," Sabres general manager Jason Botterill said. "He possesses a unique combination of size, speed and skill, and we look forward to working with him on his next steps as a pro."

Samuelsson's maturity, meanwhile, is evidenced in his selection to leadership groups at various stages of his career. He captained Team USA at the IIHF World Junior Championship this year, a role he previously held at the U-18 tournament. He was voted an alternate captain by his Western Michigan teammates despite being the youngest player on his team - no small honor, as his teammates explained

"I mostly just lead by example," he said. "I mean, if something needs to be said I'm not afraid to do it. But the way I play the game is just to win for the team so I think if I do that on a shift by shift basis then my teammates hopefully see that and want to do the same for me."

Samuelsson has made it his offseason goal to arrive at his first pro camp in the best shape of his life. He's slated to join a defensive depth chart already stocked with young players who have recently made the jump from the NCAA, including William Borgen, Jacob Bryson, and Casey Fitzgerald. 

"It's a new experience for me," he said. "I'm going to enjoy it, but I'm going to take it one step at a time."

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