BUFFALO, N.Y. — Last season didn’t sit well with Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin.
Unaccustomed to losing and no longer a rookie, Dahlin told The Associated Press on Thursday he feels better prepared and is far more driven to help transform the Sabres into contenders.
“I’m putting more pressure on myself. We’re going to be a winning team and be in the playoffs,” Dahlin said. “I think everyone is putting more pressure on ourselves now, and we’re ready to go.”
The first player selected in the 2018 draft is so eager to put last season behind him, he was among the first Sabres players to hit the ice at the team’s practice facility, some three weeks before teams open training camp. He arrived in Buffalo from his native Sweden on Tuesday, and he would have been back in town a few days earlier if not for travel complications.
The Rookie of the Year finalist is motivated after how Buffalo unraveled immediately following a 10-game winning streak that had the team briefly sitting first in the overall standings at the end of November. The Sabres then won just 16 of their final 57 games to miss the playoffs for an eighth straight season, the NHL’s longest active drought.
“We played so well in the beginning of the season, so that made you frustrated because we know how good we can play,” he said. “Yeah, we’re going to get something good going on here.”
Expressing unhappiness and acknowledging frustration is new for Dahlin, who spent much of last season looking mostly at the bright side. When asked late last season if Buffalo’s 49 losses (including overtime and shootouts) were the most he ever endured in one year, Dahlin smiled and responded by saying the team’s 33 wins were also a season high for him.
A year ago, Dahlin was expressing hope he’d simply make the season-opening roster. Now he’s begun to find his voice as a key member of the team.
“I feel more prepared. I feel more mature,” said Dahlin, who turned 19 in April. “Like that one year of experience, I know what’s coming this season. I feel more comfortable in my position.”
He said he spent much of the summer adding weight and strength to better handle the rigors of an 82-game schedule and face elite opposition.
Dahlin’s rookie season mirrored much of that of his team when it came to inconsistency. He had a goal and eight assists during the 10-game win streak, but he followed that with two goals and four assists over his next 17 games.
Though he led Sabres defenseman and finished third among NHL rookies with 44 points (nine goals, 35 assists), he closed the season with a goal and six assists in Buffalo’s final 19 games.
Dahlin showed some rust Thursday when the usually smooth-skating player took a spill — “Oh, yeah, I slipped,” he said — while being untouched at the blue line. He bounced back a few moments later when he drove in from the right point and converted Jason Pominville’s no-look pass for a goal.
Declaring himself ready to go, Dahlin already had his first face-to-face meeting with new coach Ralph Krueger on Wednesday.
“He seems like a really good coach and a good man,” he said of Krueger, who takes over after Phil Housley was fired following two subpar seasons.
Wysh List: Matchmaking the best homes for remaining free agents
John Hefti/USA TODAY Sports
22 Aug, 2019
Matchmaking is an inherent part of the human experience, because it combines two things most of us enjoy doing: Helping others find a sense of fulfillment in their lives and pretending that we know what’s best for them.
That established, we turn our attention to the remaining members of the NHL unrestricted free agent Class of 2019, which would have been a heck of an All-Star team about 10 years ago: Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Thomas Vanek up front; Niklas Kronwall and Dion Phaneuf on the blue line; and … well, Cam Ward hasn’t retired yet, so we’ll just go with him in goal.
These players, and a few more, still need homes for the 2019-20 NHL season. So it’s time to play a little matchmaker. Keep in mind these are the matches we’d like to see made, and not necessarily predictions on where they’ll end up. Also, we’re trying to at least keep a foot on the ground while our heads are in the clouds, and acknowledging some basic cap and player preference restrictions on these potential matches.
Now, please excuse me as I grab my Cupid bow, heart-tipped arrows and large adult diaper to complete the costume. It’s time to make matches.
Joe Thornton, C
Best match: San Jose Sharks
At the NHL Awards, Joe Thornton announced he was returning for his 22nd NHL season in that laid-back, Jumbo-esque manner we’ve come to expect from him. ‘No worries, we’ll all sit down, we’ll figure it out, no problem’ … that kind of thing. So we take the Bearded One at his word. Erik Karlsson’s deal, and whatever else GM Doug Wilson is cooking up, have likely left Thornton with a “Here’s what’s left for you” one-year deal, and that’s fine. The Sharks certainly can use him, as Thornton’s work on the third line last season was exemplary, and their forward group certainly took a hit this offseason. “Win it for Jumbo,” one more time.
Best of the decade
We’re running down the best players, teams, trades, lineups, trends and more from 2009-10 to 2019-20.
• The All-Decade Team for all 31 clubs
• All-Decade Awards: MVP, trades, more
• The best (and worst) teams
• How the NHL changed in the past 10 years … and what’s next
Patrick Marleau, C/LW
Best match: Arizona Coyotes
Look, we want that Patrick Marleau reunion with the Sharks just as much as you do, but it’s hard to imagine Wilson slotting him in ahead of some of the younger talent he no doubt wants to get a gander at (before adjusting accordingly). Or that all the bygones between Marleau and Wilson are indeed bygones. Keeping in mind that Marleau has stated a desire to be out West, and noting that the other California teams might not be in the market for him, what about the Yotes? It might take a little cap maneuvering, but I like him on the left side down the lineup — and especially in that room. He lost two sons in Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner; he could gain a weird nephew in Phil Kessel.
Thomas Vanek, LW
Best match: Edmonton Oilers
I’ll never forget the “Yeah, can you believe that?” tone when I asked Vanek, of the most traded players in the NHL, about getting a no-trade clause from the Detroit Red Wings. The guy that gave it to him was Ken Holland, who is now the general manager of the Oilers, a team that could use all the offensive help it can get on the left side right now. Plus, Vanek signing in Edmonton would bring it all full circle, as the franchise that offer-sheeted him with a seven-year deal in 2007 gets him 12 years later as a 35-year-old journeyman with a one-year contract. With a no-trade clause, of course.
Patrick Maroon, LW
Best match: Tampa Bay Lightning
The St. Louis Blues are obviously the “best” best match, because I’m a father, and every time I think about Maroon taking less money to play at home to be with his child and then winning the Stanley Cup in the process, the room gets dustier than an abandoned attic. But Maroon on the Lightning is just too perfect to pass up. Think about how they went out with a whimper against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Now think about the way Maroon plays. The way he scores goals. The way his line of grunts could change the momentum with one good shift. This is the kind of player the Lightning, frankly, lack when they’re getting punched in the mouth by a lesser opponent. The Big Rig gives them one.
Jason Pominville, RW
Best match: Philadelphia Flyers
Pominville turns 37 in November, and he has settled into a 0.42 points per game guy with reliable shot attempts metrics relative to his teammates. His expected goals percentage of 52.12 was fourth among Buffalo Sabres forwards last season. Having him as a veteran option on the right side down the lineup gives the Flyers a little bit of insurance, and he’s a better option than Tyler Pitlick.
Brian Boyle, C
Best match: Pittsburgh Penguins
Lose “Old Man” Matt Cullen, gain “Plays Like An Old Man” Brian Boyle for your fourth line. Boyle is a faceoff ace, a physical presence and would give the team another net-front body for when Patric Hornqvist is on the shelf. Plus, he would keep Boyle in the Northeast (sorta), which is obviously important for his family. Due respect to Teddy Blueger, but I like Boyle here.
Justin Williams, RW
Best match: Carolina Hurricanes
Earlier this summer, I said Williams should bring his particular set of skills to Arizona in order create a “Bunch of Jerks” vibe with the Coyotes. But the truth is that I want the Hurricanes to be the last team Williams plays for in the NHL. His role in the resurgence of the franchise last season was indelible. His performance as de facto player/coach with Rod Brind’Amour was vital. His next uniform should be whatever he wears as a member of the Hurricanes’ hockey operations staff after retiring with them.
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