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Rasmus Dahlin, Henri Jokiharju among Sabres RFAs to receive qualifying offer

Rasmus Dahlin, Henri Jokiharju among Sabres RFAs to receive qualifying offer

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Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin has played three seasons in the National Hockey League.

General Manager Kevyn Adams and the Buffalo Sabres have extended qualifying offers to all but two of their restricted free agents: goalie Stefanos Lekkas and winger Dawson DiPietro.

According to CapFriendly.com, the Sabres' other restricted free agents were projected to receive the following qualifying offers: defensemen Rasmus Dahlin ($874,125), Henri Jokiharju ($874,125) and Casey Fitzgerald ($874,125); and forwards Rasmus Asplund ($874,125) and Casey Mittelstadt ($917,831).

The News learned through sources last week that the Sabres and Dahlin's representatives have begun negotiations about a contract for the 21-year-old defenseman. Dahlin, who was drafted first overall in 2018, is an obvious candidate for a long-term contract extension after three dynamic offensive seasons in Buffalo.

Dahlin has totaled 18 goals and 107 points across 197 games. He is likely in line for an increased role with Rasmus Ristolainen traded to Philadelphia. The process began under coach Don Granato during the final weeks of last season, as Dahlin led all Sabres in average ice time (22:10) over the final 28 games. He had four goals and 12 points during that span.

Dahlin's 50 power-play points since the beginning of his rookie season in 2018-19 rank ninth among all NHL defensemen.

Jokiharju, 22, also may be targeted for a long-term contract after two solid seasons in Buffalo. Although the 2017 first-round draft choice needs to improve his play in front of his own net, Jokiharju has been solid when paired with a reliable left-shot defenseman or one with skills complementary to his own.

A contract for Jokiharju would cost far less than one for Dahlin, as Jokiharju has only seven goals and 23 points in 115 games since joining the Sabres in a trade that sent Alex Nylander to the Chicago Blackhawks. Dahlin and Jokiharju were used by Granato as Buffalo's top defense pairing during the final weeks of last season.

Mittelstadt, who was drafted eighth overall in 2017, emerged as a member of the Sabres' next core last season, totaling nine goals and 17 points in 28 games under Granato. Both totals ranked second on the team during that span, trailing only Sam Reinhart, who was traded to the Florida Panthers on Saturday. Mittelstadt, 22, is in line to center the Sabres' first or second line with Jack Eichel expected to be traded this offseason.

Asplund, 23, could be the Sabres' most improved player last season, as the versatile forward was outstanding when given a role with Granato as coach. Asplund, who was protected by Buffalo in the expansion draft, had six goals and 10 points in the final 23 games. Asplund can play center or wing and likely will be a key penalty-killer for the Sabres in 2021-22.

Fitzgerald, a third-round draft choice in 2016, could be a candidate to make the Sabres' roster out of training camp, as the team is currently short on right-shot defensemen. The 24-year-old was a two-year captain at Boston College before joining the Rochester Americans.

With the Amerks, Fitzgerald was reliable defensively and totaled five goals with 22 points in 51 games. The Sabres lost Will Borgen, also a right-shot defenseman, to the expansion Seattle Kraken and traded Ristolainen to the Flyers. Jokiharju and Colin Miller are the only other right-shot defensemen projected to be on this roster next season.

An undisclosed injury prevented DiPietro from playing for the Amerks last season. The 25-year-old played four seasons at Western Michigan University from 2016-20.

Lekkas received an NHL contract late last season because of injuries to Carter Hutton, Linus Ullmark and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. Dustin Tokarski also had to leave the team for personal reasons. Lekkas served as a backup to Michael Houser and never appeared in a game for the Sabres.

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News Sports Reporter

I've covered the Sabres and National Hockey League for The Buffalo News since November 2018. My previous work included coverage of the Pittsburgh Pirates and University of Pittsburgh athletics for DKPittsburghSports.com.

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