The numbers are going to historic levels, but look even deeper and you can see this is some of the best hockey of Rasmus Dahlin's young career.
Even after missing 10 games due to a concussion and shoulder injury, Dahlin is up to 28 assists and 32 points for the season. His 76 points for his career are tied with former California Golden Seals star Rick Hampton for third all-time among under-20 defenseman. Dahlin should soon pass Ray Bourque (79) and settle into second all-time behind Hall of Famer and former Sabres coach Phil Housley (132).
Over the last three games, Dahlin is running a 64.3% overall Corsi and a 60.5% rate at 5-on-5, both of which lead the club. He's been over 50% for four straight, including a 65.4 mark at 5-on-5 Feb. 1 against Columbus and a 73% clip Sunday against Anaheim.
As impressive as those figures are, it's without the puck that Dahlin is also making big strides. The 19-year-old is in better position defensively and using the wall more to keep onrushing opponents to the outside.
"We really like technically how he's attacking his one-on-ones right now and playing without the puck, which needs to happen for a defenseman of that caliber," coach Ralph Krueger said Wednesday. "And with it, he's just finding a really good balance."
Dahlin feels the difference, too.
"A lot better. I'm not thinking," he said. "I just go out there and play. You want to do everything to not get scored on, and not really focus on the offensive side. We've been playing a little better but I've been really confident."
Dahlin seems to be making one or two highlight reel plays a night, either a stickhandle around an opponent or a sublime pass to a teammate for a scoring opportunity. Tuesday's prime example was the drop pass he feathered to Marcus Johansson that the veteran converted for Buffalo's second goal in the 3-2 win over Detroit.
"The Swedish connection. I feel when there's a Swedish guy around me," Dahlin joked. "I came with a lot of speed there. I saw him coming behind me and he screamed for it and I just gave it to him."
"If we look earlier in the season in some of the hotter situations he would try to make plays, he's now being patient and waiting until those opportunities and openings are actually there," Krueger said. "It's simple play, simple play, boom, genius. Simple play, simple play, simple play, genius.
— Buffalo Hockey moments (@SabresPlays) February 12, 2020
Dahlin said the team's tough finish to last year was a tremendous learning experience for him. He knows to let one game go and prepare for the next one, something that was difficult to do as a rookie.
"I need to stay patient and just shake it off," he said. "I've been more mature, grown a lot. Last year I learned so much. This situation we're in right now, we're never going to quit. I'm never going to quit. That's the biggest thing I've learned."
Krueger said he often reads players' eyes to get a gauge on their feelings and can tell when Dahlin is angry about the way something has gone. But that competitiveness has not overshadowed his game.
"He's learning how to manage that anger towards something that's not going the way he would like it to go, whether it's the team or himself. He's channeling that energy way better right now. Into his next shift. Into the next thing he can influence and change. That's what we like about him. There's a different rhythm all the time and he's finding that rhythm now that the great defensemen do.
Supremely confident with the puck since he was a youth, Dahlin said he's more comfortable in the physical nature of NHL play. And Krueger feels the all-around game blossoming.
"That simple mix between simplicity when the team needs it and brilliance when we need it," Krueger said. "Because he can really make a play when he has that space and time. It's exciting to watch him grow week in and week out here. Who knows where that limit will be?"