Phil Housley has spent the last few weeks in Minnesota doing what a lot of Sabres fans have been doing — looking up highlights of Rasmus Dahlin.
"I know these are highlights and he's a young man and has to mature and really get to the NHL and North American game," the Buffalo head coach said by phone Friday from his home in suburban St. Paul, "but just seeing his poise and his hockey IQ of processing the game at a high speed is really, really something. I've been watching on YouTube and, boy, it's incredible. He's going to be a complete package in today's NHL."
Housley and the Sabres will get their first chance to sit down with Dahlin, their presumptive No. 1 overall pick in next month's draft, in the coming days as the NHL Scouting Combine hits KeyBank Center and HarborCenter.
Teams and prospects will begin arriving this weekend, with interviews in the arena going through the week, chats with the media starting Friday and the workouts taking place on Saturday. None of the functions are open to the public. They are limited to media and NHL team personnel.
Housley was in his home with his family watching the April 28 draft lottery, while General Manager Jason Botterill was stationed on site in Toronto.
"It came down to the last two teams there and when they flipped over the Buffalo Sabres logo, I was jumping up and down and we were high-fiving in our family room," Housley said. "I thought, 'This is finally a great breakthrough for this organization.' What a cornerstone for us to get Rasmus Dahlin. It really gives us hope. All of the things that have happened in the past, this is one bright spot to look forward to heading into the draft that can change a franchise."
The Sabres, Montreal and Carolina were the final three teams in the lottery, with Buffalo and Carolina the last two standing. Housley said he was feeling confident about the draw once Buffalo survived into the final three teams.
"I didn't know if it was a sixth sense, but I knew it was our time," he said. "After the previous drafts, we've got some tremendous players, but this was a very unique opportunity. The way the game is played now, the way the game is going, a player like Rasmus Dahlin can really change a franchise.
"There was a lot of excitement for Bots' being at the lottery, and now we have the recent news of Evander Kane signing with San Jose so we get another first-round pick. That's a lot of good things for the Buffalo Sabres."
Housley acknowledged that Dahlin will give him a huge leg up on playing the kind of style in Buffalo that the Nashville Predators employed when Housley was an assistant there on last year's Stanley Cup finalists. Nashville used a five-man attack fueled by highly skilled defensemen, the kind the Sabres simply didn't have enough of due to injuries or inconsistent play.
Dahlin changes that.
"He's more mature beyond his years, but he's still a young man and we've got to protect him and we will," Housley said. "There will be pressure riding on him and he's going to make mistakes. He's a young player in the NHL who will have to learn who he's playing against and their characteristics.
"We have to watch the 82-game schedule and what a grind that is for a young player. It will probably take a year just to learn all the players in the league. But with the hockey sense and mobility he has, he can adapt right away."