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Samuelsson attributes mature game to NHL upbringing

Notes following Friday's practice in Boston

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Mattias Samuelsson still gets a call from his father, Kjell, after games with pointers on how he played. It's a unique perspective considering Kjell's resume, which includes nearly 1,000 NHL games between the regular season and playoffs along with two decades of professional coaching. 

Sabres interim coach Don Granato believes it's contributed to the mature game exhibited by the 21-year-old defenseman. 

"He has a calm to him that's way beyond his years, but if you knew his father you would understand why," Granato said. "He's a player that benefitted from having a father that was a very good NHL player. Also has stayed in the business, he's a scout for Philadelphia currently. I know that helps. 

"He's been around the game since he was a kid. He's been in elite-level conversations since he was a kid. This is, you can see, it's pretty second nature for him because he does have a really nice calm to him in the context of a pretty competitive environment."

Granato has given Samuelsson a chance to acclimate his steady, physical game to the NHL with consistent ice time during this final stretch of the season. Samuelsson skated 22:16 against the Bruins on Thursday, his highest total through seven NHL games and second highest on the team behind fellow 21-year-old Rasmus Dahlin (23:33). 

Samuelsson has been a quick learner at various levels to this point. He was selected to wear a letter as a sophomore at Western Michigan University, a rare distinction. He progressed steadily this season as a rookie in Rochester to earn the recall to Buffalo. 

Part of it, he says, can be attributed to his upbringing. Kjell has worked in the Philadelphia Flyers organization grew up for all of Mattias' life, giving him chance to share the ice with pro players throughout his development. 

"I think that was a huge help, too," Samuelsson said. "My dad's taught me a lot."


A learning moment for Dahlin, Jokiharju 

Dahlin and Henri Jokiharju have been given top-pair responsibilities during the past month both in terms of ice time and matchups. With the Sabres' schedule, that has meant seeing the likes of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, or Patrice Bergeron on an every-other-day basis. 

The young duo has handled it admirably. Dahlin is tied for 10th among NHL defensemen with 10 points since April 1 and leads the Sabres in even-strength ice time per game in that span (19:36). They had a teaching moment Thursday, however, on a late goal by Taylor Hall. 

With the Sabres trailing by one goal and less than four minutes to play, David Krejci deked by Dahlin on a rush as the defenseman stepped up at the blue line. Jokiharju stepped across and took a diving swipe at the puck, but Krejci pulled it back and delivered a pass to Hall for an easy tap-in.

"Both Dahls and Joki made desperation plays which were uncharacteristic for them through the first 56 minutes," Granato said. "But with four minutes left, they felt a different type of pressure late down a goal and they were just too desperate to defend. They were too aggressive to defend and they lost calm, they lost patience. … They know that."


Granato "leaning toward" Luukkonen for Saturday

Granato said he expects rookie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen to start in goal against the Bruins on Saturday afternoon. Luukkonen has started three of Buffalo's last four games. 


Friday's practice


Here's how the Sabres lined up in Boston:

53 Jeff Skinner - 23 Sam Reinhart - 68 Victor Olofsson
74 Rasmus Asplund - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 25 Arttu Ruotsalainen
96 Anders Bjork - 24 Dylan Cozens - 91 Drake Caggiula 
13 Tobias Rieder - 15 Riley Sheahan - 72 Tage Thompson

26 Rasmus Dahlin - 10 Henri Jokiharju
54 Mattias Samuelsson - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
78 Jacob Bryson - 3 William Borgen
44 Matt Irwin / 88 Brandon Davidson - 33 Colin Miller

1 Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen
31 Dustin Tokarski

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