When Rasmus Dahlin hit the ice for Buffalo Sabres development camp this week, most fans’ eyes were on him. After all, it’s not every day you get to see a first-overall draft pick suit up for your NHL team.
Overall, Dahlin impressed Buffalo - and vice versa.
“It’s been amazing to be out on the ice,” he said following the camp. “I can’t wait to see all the fans in one arena, when the game starts. It’s been amazing.”
The stands at HARBORCENTER were packed daily for the public, on-ice sessions, with several fans in attendance even sporting a #26 Dahlin Sabres jersey, a feat that was surprising to the young superstar.
“I’m just super impressed that they even know who I am,” he said. “I know they love hockey, and I’ll try to win hockey games, so I can give back to them.”
Of course Sabres fans know who Dahlin is; that much, he made sure of with his performance on the ice throughout the week. He was sharp and skilled and very clearly a level above some of his peers.
But as Sabres assistant coach Steve Greeley said, this week, Dahlin was just another one of the boys.
“I told him I was so pleased with the person he is off the ice - so humble, so polite,” Greeley said. “He was almost surprised when I told him, like what do you mean, this is just me. He’s a great kid, a humble kid.”
Sabres head coach Phil Housley didn’t want to evaluate one individual player following the camp, but said he’s excited about Dahlin’s presence in Buffalo.
“You look at his path, the week after the draft and the tremendous pressure that got with that, and it’s almost like a breath of fresh air,” Housley said. “He’s just getting comfortable with his new teammates.”
“Obviously, April 28th was a big day for this franchise,” Housley added. “To get a player like we got, it’s really important for our city and Western New York. It gives a little hope that we got a first pick overall. I thought he carried himself just like all the guys this week, in a professional manner. They came to work, they came to compete, and they got something out of this week.”
So what did Dahlin get out of this week in Buffalo?
“That Buffalo has great fans,” he said.
“It’s been a busy time, but I’m so excited,” he added. “It’s been my... best trip so far in my whole life. It’s been awesome.”
Dahlin got to know his teammates over the course of the week, and vice versa.
“He sat with different kids at lunch, sat with different kids at dinner,” said Greeley. “We even got him away from the Swedes for a few minutes.”
“It’s just getting used to the National Hockey League, a little bit of the pace... and getting used to the smaller rink,” Greeley said. “For him, it’s no different than any of our other players, truly. We’re trying to see day-by-day improvement.”
The rookie’s teammates were impressed by him as well.
“I think he really floats around out there; he doesn’t look like he’s trying at all, just flying out there, gliding around guys,” said forward Casey Mittelstadt of Dahlin. “You can see how good of a skater and how good his hands are, just from today. It’s really exciting and it’s a big piece for us.”
Forward Matej Pekar, a fellow member of the 2018 Sabres draft class, certainly had an impression made on him by Dahlin, who laid him out on “the hit” that circulated around Twitter - and even Czech media.
“I’ve never seen him hit someone like that, an open-ice hit,” Pekar said. “Honestly, I would never make that move if I would know it’s him. I thought it was somebody else. I was surprised.”
As fans and teammates praise him, and coaches call him ‘special’ and ‘inspiring,” Dahlin stays focused on his game and what lies ahead.
“Of course it’s very fun to hear, but it’s what you do off the ice when someone doesn’t see,” he said. “It’s fun to hear, but you have to put in the work too.”