It’s no secret that Rasmus Dahlin is good at hockey, but the performance he gave this week on and off the ice left the Sabres organization and fans giddy with hope and new aspirations.
“It was inspiring, very inspiring,” Assistant General Manager Randy Sexton said after finally seeing Dahlin on the ice. “He's a special player and he's a special person. That's why we're all so fortunate to have him with us and our fans are going to see him play for a long time to come. I don't have a better word than special."
It’s been a long time coming to get to this point for the Sabres organization and fans. From watching his videos on YouTube to securing the first round pick, to finally putting Dahlin on the ice, it’s been months of waiting and anticipation.
"Obviously April 28 was a big day for this franchise,” coach Phil Housley said. “To get a player like we've got, it's really important for our city and Western New York. It gives a little hope. I thought he carried himself, like all the guys this week, in a professional manner.”
The fans, who packed the HarborCenter for the four days of development camp to catch a glimpse of the rising star, came decked out in his No. 26 jersey. The No. 1 overall draft pick said after the final day of development camp that this was just "crazy."
“I’m just super impressed that they even know who I am,” Dahlin said. “I know they love hockey and I will try to win many hockey games so I can give back to them.”
The Sabres fans were itching for any sense of excitement, and they followed his every move. Every time Dahlin touched the puck or got near it at all there was a reaction from the nearly 1,800 fans that packed the arena.
“I’m just so impressed with all the fans,” Dahlin said. “It’s been amazing to be out on the ice, the stands are full. I’m super impressed and can’t wait to see all the fans in one arena when the games start. It’s been amazing, they are great. … It’s been awesome to be here.”
While Dahlin was impressed with the fans, everyone else was impressed with his skills. He raced past teammates, elegantly avoided rushing players and dazzled during drills. He wasn’t unstoppable in the 3-on-3 tournament, as he missed an opportunity in a shootout and looked noticeably tired in the final game, where his team lost.
But his talent is still there, and the organization noticed.
“You look at his path, the week at the draft and the tremendous amount of pressure that goes with that,” Housley said. “It's a breath of fresh air now that he gets comfortable with his new teammates.”
His humble nature off the ice also left an impression on the front office, who have been focusing on changing the culture within the locker room. They see Dahlin as a big part of that in the future.
"In our exit interview yesterday I told him how pleased I was with the person he was off the ice,” Assistant General Manager Steve Greeley said. “Humble, polite. I think everybody here has started to see it in his interviews and he was almost surprised when I told him that. He was like, 'What do you mean? This is me.' But it's refreshing. He's a great kid, a humble kid. This week he was just one of the boys, which was really nice to see.”
Development camp isn’t just about hockey for Sabres prospects. The young players spend only about two hours on ice a day and participate in team-organized activities for the rest of the day, including nutrition and media training. It's during this time that the players are also taught what is expected of them in the Sabres organization, and the type of person they are hoping to have on their team in the future.
“They want good guys,” Dahlin said. “On the ice, they want competitive guys. I am trying to be that guy.”
The group also spends every meal together, and Greeley said Dahlin made it a point to sit with different kids instead of spending all his time with the other Swedish players. Dahlin said this was a good chance to get to know the other players, and also work on his English.
This was the end of a busy month that started with the combine and ended with the camp, and Dahlin said he is itching to get back home to Sweden to see his friends. He likely won’t be back in Buffalo until September when prospect camp begins, but he said he can’t wait to come back and finally play for the Sabres.
“It’s been a busy time, but so exciting,” Dahlin said. “It’s been my best trip in my entire life. It’s been awesome to be here.”