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Swedish legend Nicklas Lidstrom on Rasmus Dahlin: 'He's a mature player for his age'

STOCKHOLM — The teen often dubbed "The Next Nicklas Lidstrom" got to meet the real one for the first time Friday morning in the Buffalo Sabres' dressing room at Ericsson Globe.

Lidstrom, the Hockey Hall of Famer widely regarded as the best defenseman ever to come out of Sweden, chatted in Swedish with Sabres blueliner Rasmus Dahlin for a few minutes after the team's morning skate prior to its game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Detroit Red Wings legend waited patiently with Swedish broadcast partner Jonatan Lindquist while Dahlin finished an interview, and then the two shook hands for the first time.

"I was shaking. I felt like a child," a smiling Dahlin said after the meeting. "Yeah. That was cool. He's the best of all time. That's the guy."

"First time I've met. I saw him play in Frolunda a couple years ago and he's he's a mature player for his age," said Lidstrom, now 49. "He was that way two years ago when I saw him play.

"As a 17-year-old, he looked poised and mature. He looked hungry, willing to get up in the play, played with lots of enthusiasm. That's what you see in today's game as well. And at 19 years old, he's still a young player."

For Sabres fans from home and around the world, Rasmus Dahlin is in the spotlight

On the Mount Rushmore of Swedish defensemen, there is Lidstrom and Toronto legend Borje Salming, both of whom were named to the NHL100 in 2017, which honored the league's all-time team.

Lidstrom entered the NHL without any of the hype of Dahlin, getting selected in the third round at No. 53 overall by the Red Wings in the 1989 draft (the Sabres took defenseman Kevin Haller at No. 14). He came to North America in 1991 and played 20 seasons for the Red Wings, retiring in 2012 as a four-time Stanley Cup champion, a seven-time Norris Trophy winner and the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the MVP of the 2002 playoffs.

Lidstrom is fifth all-time among NHL defensemen in games played (1,564) and sixth in points (1,142). He is the only non-North American in the top 15 in scoring among defensemen.

"I was 21 when I came in. There wasn't the hype," Lidstrom said. "I was a third-rounder. I wasn't ... looked upon as a superstar or a franchise player when I came in. I came in with (Vladimir) Konstantinov, two young defensemen looking at the rebuilding of the Wings.

"It's different times now. Everything with social media and the coverage. People know who you are. It wasn't like that at all when I came in during the early '90s. It's a real different world right now."

Dahlin has endured the Lidstrom comparisons for the last three years. While they're unfair at this point in Dahlin's career, Lidstrom said, he's enjoyed hearing them.

"I take a lot of pride in being mentioned," Lidstrom said. "People are looking at me as one of the strong good defensemen coming out of Sweden so I feel proud about being mentioned like that, too."

Lidstrom said he enjoyed the mountains of hype around Dahlin heading into last year's draft.

"It was fun. It shows a great credit for Team Sweden to still be producing a lot of hockey players, for it being a small country," Lidstrom said. "We're still able to produce a lot of good players, especially young defensemen as of late. Some real good, strong young defenseman and now we have a No. 1, a first pick overall, which is real impressive."

Lidstrom, who will be in a rinkside studio for Saturday's game, said he knows Dahlin is probably nervous heading into these games in his homeland.

"I'm sure he's super excited to first of all be here and be here with his teammates. When you're playing in North America, it seems like you're far away from home," Lidstrom said. "You know people are watching on TV or following you online but now you're actually here. Now they can watch you live."

Dahlin, who procured around 30 tickets for family and friends, said he's trying to approach the games as he normally would. But he knows many former Swedish stars, such as Lidstrom and longtime NHL center Peter Forsberg, were expected to be in the building or watching on television.

"That's what I try to do, make it like another game," Dahlin said. "But Lidstrom, maybe Forsberg and those guys watching. I know it's a lot of pretty cool names. I'm just trying to focus on the game. Otherwise, I can't play."

Lidstrom said Sabres fans need to understand that this 19-year-old is still learning to play a 200-foot game even as he faces top opponents.

"But from what I've seen, he's been adopting so quickly to playing at the next level," Lidstrom said. "He showed that when he came three years ago to Frolunda to play in the highest league in Sweden. I think he showed last year stepping into the NHL with the big hype and I think he responded real well.

"That's one impressive thing with Rasmus: He's been able to adapt so quickly to being in new environments."

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