SAN JOSE -- Erik Karlsson was widely quoted last spring prior to the NHL Draft as saying that Rasmus Dahlin at 18 was far ahead of Karlsson's career trajectory at the same age. Nothing the two-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman has seen so far is making him change his opinion.
"I wasn't very good when I was 18. A lot smaller. It took me a lot longer to find my stride," the San Jose Sharks defenseman said prior to going against Dahlin and the Buffalo Sabres Thursday night in SAP Center. "For him, it's like he's ready to play right now and obviously doing a great job at it. That's something that I didn't have at that age. Comparing the two of us from where he is right now, he's miles ahead."
High praise from an NHL superstar. Even higher in Dahlin's mind because it comes from his idol.
"That's so cool to hear," Dahlin said after the Sabres' morning meeting Thursday. "But it's a long way to my career end so I can't get comfortable."
Karlsson and Dahlin have never met but Karlsson has done his homework on the Sabres' No. 1 overall pick. They both played for Frolunda in the Swedish Hockey League before getting drafted, with Karlsson going No. 15 overall to Ottawa in 2008.
"I know a lot of people with Frolunda that spoke very highly of him and going first overall means that you're doing something right," Karlsson said. "It's going to be exciting to see him. I've seen a lot of clips and highlights from all over the world about him but it's going to be nice to play against him."
What has Karlsson seen? Pretty much the same thing draftniks were drooling over in the spring and Sabres fans have watched, often with mouths agape, in the summer and fall.
"He plays the game the way it's supposed to be played, with a lot of enthusiasm, fun and skill," Karlsson said. "But he's dedicated to playing the right way. He plays as tough as he can when he needs to and he's not afraid to do things that put himself out of his comfort zone, which is fun to see.
"For being a young guy like that, to be able to grasp all those aspects of the game is very rare and doesn't come along too often. It took me a long time to figure out what kind of player I was and it feels like he's pretty much already figured that out."
Dahlin, of course, is learning the NHL. He had never been to any of the league's arenas until his trip to Washington for the Stanley Cup final in June. And he had never seen Karlsson play in person until he stepped on the ice here Thursday night.
"It's going to be cool watching him play live. I've never done that," Dahlin said. "It's going to be cool but it's a game for me too and I need to be prepared."
Karlsson, 28, had a good laugh when reminded Dahlin has said the fellow Swede is his favorite player.
"It either means that you're old or that you're doing something right but it's nice to see that," he said. "I remember being in his shoes, being a young Swedish guy coming over and not really knowing what to expect. He's going to have a lot more things going on around him with the hype that comes with it but I think that so far he's been handling it great.
"From what I've heard, he's a great guy, a great kid and he's willing to do whatever he needs to do to stay focused on hockey. That's going to be a priority for him and it's nice to hear. ... I'm looking forward to playing against him and someday play with him on the Swedish national team."
Dahlin's eyes brightened noticeably when that comment was relayed to him. There could be a World Championship together in their future or, perhaps, the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.
"That's super fun to hear. I want to play with him too," said Dahlin, who had a bit role on Sweden's NHL-less Olympic team earlier this year in South Korea. "He's a skilled D but he can play in the D zone too. He has all the tools to be the best defenseman in the world."