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Buffalo’s wave of Swedish prospects marks a change in strategy

Hockey: World Cup of Hockey-Team Russia vs Team Sweden Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

The resounding cheer that echoed through the greater Western New York area last weekend was boisterous enough to register on the Richter scale. After nearly a decade of trying - some years more actively than others - the Buffalo Sabres will have the first overall draft pick in June’s NHL draft.

The prevailing consensus indicates that Buffalo will choose standout defender Rasmus Dahlin with this pick. When this finally becomes actuality instead of popular theory, the Sabres will have acquired three Swedish players in a matter of only months.

Add this to the already Swede-heavy roster of prospects, and it is clear that general manager Jason Botterill has ‘a type.’ Linus Ullmark and Alexander Nylander all played in the Sabres’ organization last season. The team also signed forward Victor Olofsson and blueliner Lawrence Pilut in recent weeks. Don’t forget about Rasmus Asplund who is likely to sign with the Sabres in the near future. That is a full line of Tre Kronor.

It stands to reason that Botterill, and head coach Phil Housley, would covet the Swedish prospects. Sweden’s men’s national program is ranked third in the world, behind Canada and Russia. The team took silver at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships, losing 3-1 to Canada in the gold medal game.

As Buffalo prepares to rebuild (again...or still...or...whatever) it is interesting to see the prospect pool develop such a depth with young Swedish talent. The Swedish style of hockey, though, lends itself very well to the strategies deployed by some of the league’s most successful franchises. The league’s best defenders - players like Victor Hedman and Erik Karlsson - are as gifted offensively as they are defensively, and Dahlin is another from the mold of dominant Swedish defensemen.

Their penchant for joining the play drives their teams’ successes, and it is this factory that is so appealing to Buffalo’s ailing back end. The anemic offensive output from the top six defenders in Buffalo has been a calling card for the team’s recent failures, and Botterill’s moves to recharge the unit is exactly what Buffalo needs to propel itself out of the basement next season.

It is certainly true that some of the young Swedes may still need seasoning in the minors, but it is certainly some comfort to know that they are within the Sabres’ system and are on the cusp of making an impact with the club.

Nylander developed a deeper focus on his two-way game in Rochester last year, and though he is still going through some growing pains, it won’t be long before he’s playing up in Buffalo. Ullmark could end up on the roster in the upcoming season; whether or not that was his intended path for next year. Both Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson have expressed a distinct interest in moving on from Buffalo over the summer.

Dahlin represents the next wave of Buffalo hockey, joining Brendan Guhle as visionary puck-moving defensemen. The Sabres transition game will improve exponentially once this pair becomes a mainstay at the Key Bank Center.

With the pressure off of more traditional defenders like Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe, Buffalo’s blueline will look completely different, which is to say...good. Finally, the Sabres defense will be good.

It’s been a long time coming, but the sweet, Swede sound of victory may soon fill the streets of Buffalo. Citizens of the Queen City will need to remember to celebrate the small wins in moderation and save the big throwdown for when Lord Stanley’s prize finally comes to the shores of Lake Erie.