20240509 Dahlin

Bowen Byram returned to the bench following a shift against the Edmonton Oilers – his first home game as a member of the Buffalo Sabres – on March 8.

Byram was mic’d up for the game. The camera caught an interaction he had with Tage Thompson regarding his new defense partner, Rasmus Dahlin.

“Dude, Dahls never breathes hard,” Byram, who spent the start of his career playing alongside the likes of Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar in Colorado, said.

Answered Thompson: “He’ll play 30 minutes tonight and won’t even sweat.”

That game, in addition to being Byram’s first at KeyBank Center as a member of the Sabres, was also the team’s third in the absence of Kyle Okposo following the trade that sent the former captain to the Florida Panthers days prior.

Dahlin, an alternate captain the past two seasons, was among the players who stepped up to fill the void. He did it by example, skating 28:55 that night in the shootout win over the Oilers while accumulating a team-high seven hits and two blocked shots.

It’s the sort of approach Dahlin plans to carry as one of the Sabres’ leaders going forward.

“I think my role moving forward is to lead by example,” Dahlin said. “And some of the other guys, we saw that after the deadline, younger guys were stepping up and really pushing this team. So, we need some good meetings, during the summer, and figure out what we have to do.

“My background is that you have to earn everything. And so, you have to work hard. And our main core and this team have to work hard – every single game, every single practice to be able to push all the other guys.”

Rasmus Dahlin addresses the media

Dahlin added another achievement to his offensive resume in 2023-24 in the form of a 20-goal campaign, the first by a Sabres defenseman since Phil Housley in 1989-90 and tied for the third-highest total among NHL defensemen this season.

Dahlin’s 292 career points are the 10th most in NHL history by a defenseman through their age 23 season. Eight of the nine names ahead of him are in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He already ranks third in Sabres history in points by a defenseman, trailing Phil Housley (558) and Mike Ramsey (329).

But while his offensive gifts – the tape-to-tape passes that travel the length of the ice, the ankle breaking dekes, and the puck-on-string maneuvers along the blue line – have been apparent since before he was selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, his intangibles have allowed him to develop into an all-situations player on the back end and a leader on the ice.

Lindy Ruff pointed to Dahlin as one of the reasons he was excited to return as coach of the Sabres.

“When you look at some of the good teams that have recently won, they have one or two guys on the back end that are highly skilled and involved with all parts of the game whether it’s defending or it’s offense,” Ruff said. “You can probably look at Dahlin as a guy that you look at and you marvel at the way he plays.”

Rasmus Dahlin's top plays from 2023-24

Dahlin skated a career-high 2059:13 in 81 games this season, the fourth-highest mark in the NHL. In addition to his first 20-goal season, he set career highs in hits (195) and blocked shots (154).

The Sabres were plus-245 in shot attempts when Dahlin was on the ice at 5-on-5, oftentimes against opposing teams’ top lines.

Dahlin took his workhorse role to another level during a stretch in February when he eclipsed 29 minutes in seven consecutive games – the first NHL player to do so since Erik Karlsson in 2015-16 and the seventh since the league began tracking ice time in 1997-98.

Zach Benson got an up-close look at the work that goes into the never-get-tired demeanor that Dahlin brings onto the ice. Dahlin – having entered the league at 18, like Benson – invited Benson to live in his home early in the season.

Whereas Dahlin spent his first year living with another rookie in Casey Mittelstadt, both adjusting to life in the league together, Benson had the advantage of absorbing the daily habits of a three-time All-Star.

“You learn that he takes such good care of his body,” Benson said. “He's always ready to go. He's always doing whatever [he] can to make himself a better player and living with him, I really got to see that behind the scenes and super grateful for that."

Dahlin will begin his offseason playing for Sweden at the IIHF World Championship, which begins Friday. He will be part of a talented Sweden roster that also features Norris Trophy winners in Karlsson and Victor Hedman on defense.

After that, he said, his sights and those of his teammates will be set on putting the necessary work in this offseason to carry the Sabres to the next level.

“We need a good summer,” Dahlin said. “When we get to training camp, we need a really good camp. And we have to be pushed. We have a young group, who are hungry, and we need to get pushed hard. And we're ready for it.”