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Mike Harrington: Dahlin the latest entry to Sweden's burgeoning defense crop

How big is Rasmus Dahlin back home? Some fellow Swedish defenseman attending the NHL Scouting Combine had a good chuckle at that inquiry Saturday in HarborCenter.

"I heard he's signed autographs when he goes out and takes a walk in Gothenburg," said Adam Boqvist, who split time between the junior and pro teams for Brynas and is also expected to be selected in the top 10 of the draft. "You can say he's pretty big."

"You can read about him anywhere and everywhere," said Filip Johansson of Leksands. "It's very fun for him. He deserves it. He's a humble guy and it's fun to see."

What Dahlin has done for many months and what Sabres fans hope he will do for many years is put a renewed spotlight on all the defensemen coming out of Sweden. Several of the prospects interviewed Saturday said they loved the game of retired Detroit legend Nicklas Lidstrom. Current Ottawa star Erik Karlsson is another favorite and there are so many good ones from Sweden around the league.

Look at these names: Victor Hedman, John Klingberg, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Anton Stralman, Mattias Ekholm, Hampus Lindholm, Adam Larsson, Jonas Brodin. Tobias Enstrom.

Why so many defenseman from Sweden?

"We like to have the puck and skate with the puck," Dahlin said. "We have great movement on the ice. That's the main thing."

"I don't know. It's a small country. That's a hard question to answer," Johansson said. "Our system is good. We can play some exciting hockey. We can talk English good and turn over and live here. That stuff is also a big key."

Combine Notebook: Dahlin completes tests, will join other prospects at Cup final

You look deeper and see it's all part of the plan. Dahlin, remember, skated with the Frolunda Jr. team in the same arena as the pro team. He was quickly amalgamated into the pro practices as a 16-year-old, challenging his skills against much older players. The heightened practices can make for struggles in the short term but huge benefits in the long run for young Swedes.

"They don't necessarily get the playing minutes but they're in a professional mode even though they're not a pro yet," said Dan Marr, the NHL's director of Central Scouting. "It carries over to where they learn by example and are put into this routine where they're committed and disciplined. They understand conditioning levels and when it comes to game time they're ready to go."

The Swedish system has helped Dahlin, who said he often talked hockey with Mike Weber when the former Sabres defenseman became his teammate for a few weeks early this season (Dahlin said they did not talk about Buffalo).

"It's a compliment to the development programs they have and the way he's been developed," Marr said. "He's been on an accelerated development but his status hasn't been accelerated. He hasn't been put on a pedestal there. With the men's team, they didn't throw him into the fire. He had to earn his ice time. Sometimes he didn't play as much and that's a nice way to develop a young prospect along the way."

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

Ordinarily, you would wonder how transitioning from the large European rink to smaller NHL surfaces would translate. Not so with Dahlin, who virtually everyone you talk to says is a can't-miss guy. The expectation is he will do it seamlessly.

"The way we play over there helps," said Rasmus Sandin, who played for Sault Ste. Marie in the OHL. "We play a smart, simple game but we can really skate with the puck because of the bigger rinks. If we bring that over to the smaller rinks, we do fine too."

Dahlin's favorite is Karlsson and the free-wheeling Ottawa veteran, who many observers think will somehow land in Vegas in the offseason, has directed the Senators from the back end for several years. Injuries brought down Karlsson's game dramatically this season and the Sens missed the playoffs after getting within a goal of the Cup final a year earlier before losing a Game 7 thriller in double overtime to Pittsburgh in the 2017 East final.

Whether it's Karlsson or Lidstrom or any of the other greats from his country, Dahlin has a major lineage he will be expected to keep up with -- and perhaps someday head to the top of the class.

"Lidstrom was one of the greatest defenseman of all time and he was my idol growing up," said Sandin. "I"m sure he was the idol of many other players and everyone liked to watch him a lot.

"Dahlin is a really nice guy on the outside but he's so competitive, really wants to win. That makes him a leader, makes him do everything for his team."

Mike Harrington: Dahlin gives Sabres an international spotlight

Go to the video: See Dahlin's Combine workouts

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