Sweden’s Dahlin feels no pressure with facing high expectations
By Alec Gearty
For the duration of the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship, everyone will be watching Sweden’s Rasmus Dahlin.
Whenever Sweden takes the ice in Buffalo, fans and scouts alike hope to catch a glimpse of the 17-year-old defenseman, who is projected to be the first overall selection in June’s NHL Draft.
Carrying the vast amount of expectations is nothing Dahlin is concerned about. He’s too busy to be treating the tournament experience as a job interview.
“I play hockey because I love it,” Dahlin said. “I’m having fun out there.”
Dahlin hasn’t faced any issues blocking out all of the extra attention he’s been garnering.
“I just focus on what I can do,” he said. “I have so [many] things I need to think about so it’s kind of easy.”
It didn’t take Dahlin too long to steal headlines at the annual tournament. During one of Sweden’s intra-squad practice sessions, video surfaced of Dahlin displaying his sneaky, but mesmerizing ability as he fooled a Swedish goaltender for a goal. It’s nothing out of the ordinary for Dahlin.
The Trollhättan, Sweden native was 16 when he debuted at the U20 tournament last year. He became the youngest defenseman Sweden awarded a roster spot to, but that didn’t hinder his performance. Dahlin recorded two points over seven games outside of his own age group and he’s made a more significant impact in this go around.
Often compared to Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson for his offensive skillset, Dahlin continues to use the international stage to develop into a top-tier defenseman.
“I’m feeling more comfortable out there,” Dahlin said. “I’m feeling stronger and older. I’ve grown and learned many things.”
Sweden’s head coach Tomas Montén awarded the 6-foot-2 defenseman with an increase of playing time. He also placed Dahlin on the team’s top power play unit.
Dahlin’s puck control from end-to-end is a mastered craft that he displayed numerous times thus far.
Montén said that back in Sweden, Dahlin is at the center of media hype, but it will be about the attention he draws from opponents in this tournament that may force him to make some adjustments.
“I think he got a good start last year and he knows what to expect [this year],” he said. “The most important part for Rasmus is going to be on the ice. Everyone is going to look for him. Everyone is going to be chasing him a little bit more.
“He needs to adapt to that and I think the other four players that play with him, we hope they can get some more space and he can create that for them.”
As Dahlin typically glides into the offensive zone, a swarm of defenders attempt to flock the defenseman. His poise as he becomes surrounded frees up his teammates who have the separation to generate a shot. It’s an elite attribute that makes Dahlin more dynamic than he’s been in years past.
He’s content with being able to produce for the team wherever he’s needed.
“I love playing in the defensive zone and the offensive zone,” Dahlin said. “I love everywhere I play.”
Montén also decided to pair Dahlin, who leads Sweden with four points heading into Saturday’s game against Switzerland, with the equally offensive-minded defenseman Erik Brannstrom.
The duo make up Sweden’s first pairing and the result is what Sweden hoped for. Through the first two games, Dahlin and Brannstrom have earned a point on five of Sweden’s eight goals.
“When he’s on the ice, you can feel that something is going to happen,” Sweden’s captain Lias Andersson said. “That’s a good feeling to have.”
Andersson and Dahlin are teammates for the Swedish Hockey League’s Frolunda HC back in their homeland. Since Andersson joined the club last season, he’s witnessed how valuable Dahlin’s presence can be to the team but knows they can’t always force him to take charge.
Dahlin remains the youngest player on Sweden’s roster but you wouldn’t know that by looking at the tournament’s scoring leaders. Dahlin ranks 10th among all skaters in points, and is two points shy of tying the United States’ Casey Mittelstadt for the tournament scoring lead.
Dahlin, being a part of an extremely talented Sweden team, has the ability to draw in a substantial audience. In Sweden’s second game of the tournament – a 2 p.m. matchup with Czech Republic on Thursday – 6,890 people made their way to KeyBank Center to witness the latest phenomenon that may soon take over the NHL.
It was the largest crowd for a game between two European countries in the 2018 tournament so far. Dahlin recorded two assists in the matchup but his performance goes to show that his focus is on winning a gold medal for Sweden, not improving his draft stock.
“He’s a skilled defenseman,” Andersson said. “It’s good to have him for offense. We can feel good with him out there.”