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Mike Harrington: Dahlin gives Sabres an international spotlight

Welcome to June, 2018. It's the month the Buffalo Sabres hope will change their franchise forever.

We got our first glimpse of Rasmus Dahlin Friday in HarborCenter and you can immediately see one thing that's going to change: The Sabres are about to get a lot more attention.

The presumptive No. 1 draft pick's whirlwind of a month is under way at the NHL Scouting Combine, and he'll be under the microscope for about an hour Saturday morning as he does his physical testing workouts. Then he'll head to Washington, where he'll be ushered around in the annual top prospects tour of the Stanley Cup final.

He's attending Game 4 between the Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights on Monday night, will meet players in both locker rooms and do appearances on NBC and with CBC legends Don Cherry and Ron MacLean.

Dahlin will get his Sabres jersey June 22, when he's called to the podium at the start of the draft in Dallas. He's expected back in HarborCenter the following week for the team's annual development camp. And maybe sometime around July 1 he can exhale some. But only some. By early September, it will be time for prospect games and training camp.

Out in Vegas during Games 1 and 2 of the final, there was plenty of Dahlin chatter. Swedish reporters, in fact, joked they will be getting to know yours truly much better because they will be in Buffalo so much on Dahlin Watch.

The watch opened Friday afternoon with several dozen media members and around 20 cameras all trained to hear the 18-year-old's thoughts. Sabres fans will like what we heard.

Dahlin played it coy during his 12-minute talk about being picked by the Sabres – even though the entire hockey world knows that's what will happen.

"Wait to see until the draft and see what's coming up," he said. "Coming here, I would love to be here. I've heard they have great fans. Everybody loves hockey here. It seems like Buffalo is a great city."

From Frolunda to 'Fortnite:' Rasmus Dahlin will snipe you

Dahlin, remember, was here in January for the World Juniors so he has some first-hand knowledge. That tourney ended badly for him as Sweden lost in the gold medal game and Dahlin earned a two-game suspension from the International Ice Hockey Federation for taking off his silver medal and holding it in his hand rather than wearing it around his neck.

Yes, that's against the rules and protocol needs to be followed. But there's quite a statement being made there, exactly the kind the Sabres need.

"I'm a player that wants to win. I hate to lose," Dahlin said. "I can bring myself and my competitiveness."

Praise be.

The Sabres have never had anyone like this, a transcendant international star from the moment he arrives in the 716.

Gilbert Perreault was a hero in French-speaking Canada. Alexander Mogilny was the first defector from Russia but it took a while for his talents to explode before that famous 76-goal season playing alongside Pat LaFontaine in 1992-93. And there was no such thing as social media in either case.

Jack Eichel is the pride of Boston but, outside of Buffalo, 2015 was about Connor McDavid. Now Eichel will have the running mate he needs to get this franchise going places.

Dahlin is a world figure already. He was a Swedish pro at 16 and an Olympian at 17 (Memo to Sweden: What was with all the time on the bench in Korea?). He's been profiled at length by Sportsnet and on Hockey Night in Canada. He's a cover boy this month in the Hockey News.

Sabres games next season will suddenly become appointment viewing -- on both sides of the ocean. You have to believe it's a virtual certainty they will be invited to play regular season games in Sweden sooner rather than later, much like Ottawa and Colorado staged a pair last November in Stockholm.

My suggestion is Buffalo fans looking for a road trip should start their research on Gothenburg, the city where Dahlin played for Frolunda in the Swedish League. No chance, of course, that happens without Dahlin.

The Sabres are building quite the Swedish core. Linus Ullmark is going to be one of their two goalies next season and Lawrence Pilut has signed as a free agent to join Dahlin on defense (Dahlin said he didn't know Pilut personally but was impressed with his play back home this season).

Dahlin revealed his relationship-building with the Sabres opened Wednesday, as he described a pleasant Combine interview with the team that was held in KeyBank Center and led by General Manager Jason Botterill.

There were some extras other teams here this week couldn't offer. Utilizing their home-ice advantage, the Sabres gave Dahlin a full tour of their sprawling dressing room facilities.

"Everything is great here," he said. "We were here for the World Juniors, played in the full arena and it's pretty awesome here. I loved it."

Everyone in hockey loves what Dahlin can be. He'll be the first No. 1 pick out of Sweden since Mats Sundin in 1989 and is universally regarded as the top defense prospect in the draft of the last 40 years. Is he worried about the 82-game NHL schedule? No way. Dahlin said he played more than that this year between the Olympics, World Juniors and the Swedish League.

"I learned so many new things. I was competing against men," he said. "It wasn't easy in the beginning. I learned ... I'm starting to realize what kind of season I had. It was so great an experience. I've been to so many new places and grown as a guy too."

He's going to grow up quickly. Every move he makes is going to be documented, every word dissected. It started here Friday.

"It's pretty awesome actually," Dahlin said of the swarm around him on the balcony overlooking HarborCenter's main rink. "It's the first time so many cameras I think. It's fun. I love it."

Good thing Dahlin had fun Friday. He better get used to his new life. Plenty of eyes are going to be on him. And his shoulders will carry the hopes of Sabres fans for, oh, the next decade or more.

Hype machine is cranked up for do-it-all Dahlin

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