By Adam Kimelman – NHL.com
Sweden defenseman Rasmus Dahlin only played twice and fought a fever that sidelined him for three games, but left the World Junior Summer Showcase in a positive mood.
“It was so much fun,” he said. “I haven’t played so many games but the games I played went well and I think it’s been a good week.”
Dahlin finally got back on the ice against Finland at USA Hockey Arena on Saturday and had four shots on goal in a 6-5 overtime win.
“Beginning [of the game] was a little hard,” he said. “Then I came into it.”
Dahlin, expected to be one of the top picks of the 2018 NHL Draft, didn’t need to do much to show he deserves a spot on Sweden’s roster for the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. But in two games at the Summer Showcase he displayed his superior skating, poise and decision making.
He had an assist in a 4-3 win against USA Blue on Saturday. He also made a game-saving dive into the goal to block a shot.
“For us, he’s a two-way defenseman,” Sweden coach Tomas Monten said. “He’s always going to be recognized for his puck movement and his skating. He made some nice plays on the blue line as well. We feel that in Rasmus we have a player that can play both ends of the ice. He’s going to play on our penalty kill. He’s great at the man-on-man play down low. I think he could be a complete defenseman.”
Dahlin (6-foot-2, 181 pounds) also stood up to targeted physical play from bigger opposing forwards.
“I like to play physical,” he said. “I like when the game is on fire.”
Dahlin, who turned 17 on April 13, made his Swedish Hockey League debut last season with Frolunda and had three points (one goal, two assists) in 26 regular-season games, and five points (three goals, two assists) in 14 playoff games.
He also had two points (one goal, one assist) for Sweden as its youngest player at the 2017 WJC, and it’s expected that he’ll have a bigger role at the 2018 tournament.
“He showed us last year it’s not an age factor,” Monten said. “We’re going to go with the best players, doesn’t matter if they’re young or old. We’re just looking for the players that can make our team better. For sure he’s one of them.”
NHL scouts were impressed and will keep a close eye on him this season.
“I watched him play in the World Juniors and watched him play a couple [SHL] games in the playoffs,” a scout from an Eastern Conference team said. “He played a lot of minutes with the men … and I was really impressed with his poise and his composure. He skated well and moved the puck and had skill. The composure that he showed as a 16-year-old against men in the top league was phenomenal.”
Now Dahlin’s goal is to have a larger role with Frolunda and help Sweden at the 2018 WJC improve from its fourth-place finish in 2017. And do it while the draft year spotlight is focused on him.
But he said he’s not worried about the extra attention. His focus is spending time in the gym to get stronger, and working on all areas of his game on the ice, especially his shot.
“All I can do is play my game and be myself,” he said. “All I can do is train and be better every day. Then we’ll see.”