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Camp Preview: Great expectations follow Dahlin into rookie season

First-overall pick has earned praise and drawn lofty comparisons from experts

by Brian Duff @duffersabres /

From the Buffalo Sabres' arrival in 1970 through the 48 years that have followed, there have been just 13 defensemen selected first overall in the NHL Draft:

Denis Potvin
Greg Joly
Rick Green
Rob Ramage
Gord Kluzak
Wendel Clark
Roman Hamrlik
Ed Jovanovksi
Bryan Berard
Chris Philips
Erik Johnson
Aaron Ekblad
Rasmus Dahlin

Here are 13 ways Dahlin, the most recent addition - and only Sabre on that list - has been described: 

Humble. Special. Creative. Competitive. Extraordinary. Respectful. Assertive. Polished. Cerebral. Dominant. Mature. Exceptional. Uber-talented.

And in honor of his jersey number (26), here are 13 more:

Fluid. Impactful. Difference-maker. Intense. Gifted. Brilliant. Stunning. Prolific. Breathtaking. Impressive. Commanding. Phenomenal. NHL-ready.

Can you imagine trying to live up to words like that?

Tweet from @BuffaloSabres: Premiering this fall at a rink near you�����Rasmus Dahlin.

Joining Johnson and Ekblad as the only three blueliners taken first overall in the last 22 years, Dahlin has heard it all, and more. But the one thing that always comes across in his dealings with the media and hockey personnel, or even in opinions from casual observers, is how grounded he is.

And perhaps that trait, among the many others, could help him the most in managing what appear to be enormous expectations.

"I think what's impressed us on the ice is, you see some YouTube highlights that are impressive with his 1-on-1 skills, but just a simple [play] around the net. If one option is not there, he seems to be able to find number two and number three very quickly," beamed Sabres general manager Jason Botterill pre-draft.

"That intelligence of the game is something that's very impressive… There's a confidence about him, but I don't think he feels he has all the answers out there; he's very open to knowledge."

Video: Craig Button's analysis

Making his family the focal point of his draft weekend in Dallas, Dahlin then delivered as advertised during development camp at the end of June.

"It was inspiring. Very inspiring," Sabres assistant GM Randy Sexton said. "He's a special player and he's a special person. That's why we're all so fortunate to have him with us and our fans are going to see him play for a long time to come. I don't have a better word than special."

While many longtime Sabres observers seem to agree that Dahlin's greatest impact will be seen in the improved play of those around him, Dahlin will be under heavy statistical scrutiny - as much or more so than the previous defensemen taken first overall.

Only three from that list went on to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie.

Denis Potvin with the New York Islanders in 1973-74:
77 GP, 54 points (17+37), minus-17, 175 PIM, 209 shots

Bryan Berard, also with the Islanders, in 1996-97:
82 GP, 48 points (8+40), plus-1, 86 PIM, 172 shots

And Aaron Ekblad with the Florida Panthers in 2014-15:
81 GP, 39 points (12+27), plus-12, 32 PIM, 170 shots

The Sabres have enjoyed three Calder wins as well, with the first being earned by their first first-overall selection Gilbert Perreault in 1970-71.

Netminder Tom Barrasso snared the next one (along with the Vezina and a First-Team All-Star selection) in 1983-84.

While in 2009-10, the play of Tyler Myers (82 GP, 48 points (11+37), plus-13, 32 PIM, 104 shots) garnered the club's only Calder by a defenseman to date.

It's worth noting that current Sabres head coach Phil Housley produced 66 points (19+47) in 77 games as an 18-year-old rookie back in 1982-83, and finished as the runner-up to Steve Larmer for that year's Calder. 

And with the addition of a three-time Stanley Cup-winning defenseman to Housley's staff in Steve Smith, the Sabres certainly appear to be positioning themselves with the proper guidance in place for Dahlin's transition to the NHL.

"I want to see him smile," Smith told "I want to see him enjoy the game, I want to see him have some fun. I want to see him work hard. I want to see a kid that has some expectations set that are high that he can't wait to get to the next one and wants to exceed those expectations."

Expectations. It's a hard word to run from.

"The external expectations are going to be different than what we set from within," Smith continued. "The critical part is, learn to do things on a daily basis, learn to do it right, and not looking too far ahead."

As for what lies ahead, I can only tell you this: The two things I've tweeted about since late April are Rasmus Dahlin and The Gaslight Anthem.

Gaslight was doing a tour for the 10th anniversary of the '59 Sound album which started Memorial Day weekend in D.C. and concluded just over a week ago in Asbury Park. (Yes, I was there for those nights and five others in between.) 

The song that ignited the crowds every night was "Great Expectations."

"We were always waiting
Always waiting
We were always waiting for something to happen"

Great Expectations. It is perfectly okay to have them.

Watch: Youtube Video

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