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Mike Harrington: Ex-Sabre Mike Weber stoked by what he saw in stint as Dahlin's teammate

There is enthusiasm about Rasmus Dahlin and then there is what came from the other end of phone Monday.

The caller was longtime former Sabres defenseman Mike Weber, who just signed up earlier in the day to embark on a full-time coaching career with the OHL's Windsor Spitfires after ending his playing career in January due to knee injuries. Weber is going back to coach his old junior team after finishing his pro career with 10 games this season for Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League.

As a teammate to Dahlin.

It was only eight weeks in Gothenburg but Weber saw what all the fuss was about. How stoked is he about his former team's draft lottery victory? Weber talked unprompted for more than three minutes about Dahlin before any real question was asked. No extra verbiage needed from this corner. Let's let Weber do the talking.

"This kid is mature far beyond his years. It's amazing," Weber said. "He's a better skater than [Erik] Karlsson, he's got a shot like Victor Hedman, he kind of moves like Pavel Datsyuk in the corners. He can slip checks and pull pucks away. The thing that impressed me the most is his heads-up hockey. Now that I'm coaching kids, I notice even more. You don't see kids that age skating all the time with their heads up, looking at the play.

"You know that his mind is contemplating what's about to happen: "I make that first pass, what's next? Sprint to the hole, get open, get it back.' He knows who's driving the net, who's going wide. He thinks the game ahead and that's special. He's never looking down at the puck, always skating, always moving his feet. His escapability is unbelievable -- and he's been playing with men in a league that's unbelievably fast."

There was more. Much more.

"You're talking an exceptional talent. Just a great kid," Weber said. "I really spent part of my childhood and all of my young adult life in Buffalo and I know what this means. Everyone there has to remember he is a kid, but it's a player they'll obviously be able to rally around for a long time to help the organization and the Pegulas and the city get where they want to be and hopefully win that championship soon.

"His work ethic is amazing. It's pretty eye-opening to go over to Sweden and see how they train. Since 14 years old, this kid has been around pros. With Frolunda, the junior team is right beside the pro team's locker room. They're all in the same building. At 14, 15, 16, he's been training and practicing with pros. They'll have callup guys to fill out spots. He was one of those guys a couple years ago getting the call just to practice with the pros, to be around those guys to see how they handle themselves.

"There's not enough you can say. I'm so excited for the Sabres. 'Ras' is pretty funny once you guys get to know him. He's dedicated in so many areas. He's working hard to get his English better, working hard to make the transition to North America better. He asked a lot of questions with that in mind. The players loved him, the coaching staff loved him. He's a great talent. You're going to see how special he is."

Dahlin's tools can put Housley's system to work for Sabres

Dahlin's work ethic is something you already hear a lot about from scouts. No surprise that an elite talent is all in, all day every day. Weber confirmed it.

"You've never seen a 17-year-old train as hard as he does and improve upon himself every day," Weber said. "He would come to the rink at 7 in the morning, train for a couple hours and then do his own video, then he would work out with the team, then another video, another skill session, then practice, then go to school for a couple hours, then come back to the rink. This kid took what's a normal schedule in Sweden to another level."

The Frolunda team would routinely open practice with small-zone scrimmages, something the Sabres do as well from time to time with two or three skaters on a team. Instead of their normal spots at opposite ends of a rink, the nets are pushed to the side boards in one end zone or placed on each blue line with play only in the neutral zone. It becomes a tough battle drill for the skaters and a shooting gallery for the goalies.

"The stuff he was pulling off in those, you just shake your head," Weber said. "It was hard to fathom. You see that with elite people in business, with elite athletes. That's how they're driven. They're always striving to be better, to be more creative. How can they keep pushing themselves? This kid has it and just turned 18. Pretty special."

Mike Harrington: It's a turnaround moment for a bedraggled franchise

Weber said Dahlin quickly got used to plenty of media attention, both from North American and Swedish outlets, and would ask how he could improve his interviews.

"He's a kid that's hungry and wants to do things the right way all the time. That makes a good pro," Weber said. "And he's hungry to win. The Sabres have a big piece in Jack (Eichel). ... To add a guy like that who is going to be a game-changer -- maybe not right away next year but pretty soon -- on a nightly basis is something every team needs to win."

Weber, 30, played 341 games for the Sabres starting in 2007 until being traded to Washington at the deadline in 2016. He spent last season as the captain of the AHL's Iowa Wild before the knee pain became too great. He battled hard through injections to return to play in Sweden to close his career.

He said he needs knee replacement surgery but will try to hold it off for a few years so it doesn't have to be repeated as often later in life. Weber and his wife, Janine, had their third son in February and being able to do normal dad things heavily influenced Weber's decision to get off the ice and head into coaching.

But in the two years he's been away, Weber has never stopped following the Sabres and he remains friends with former teammates like Eichel, Zach Bogosian and Sam Reinhart.

"It's been disheartening to see the team still struggling," he said. "I was a Buffalo Sabre. I lived it. That's who I am with my pro career. I played 10 games at the end of Washington that doesn't even really count almost. My first son was born in Buffalo. My wife and I grew up there. We pull for that city, pull for the organization and I've remained close with a lot of people. It's tough when you see the turnover and lack of success there. But at the end of the day, I really feel it's right there.

"The city is ready for it. The city is begging for it. Most important, the guys in the locker room are ready for it. They're ready for that next step. You hope their time is soon. I would love nothing more than to come back and just be a guy seven rows deep in the parade."

Roll the highlight film: Here is Rasmus Dahlin in action

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