(Photo credit: B5254)
A sigh of relief
All it took was one simple sentence for the hopes of the Buffalo Sabres and its fans to go from seemingly non-existent to through the roof.
"The first overall selection in the 2018 NHL Draft belongs to the Buffalo Sabres."
As soon as it was known that the Sabres would pick first and that Rasmus Dahlin would don the blue and gold come next season, it was if a weight had been lifted off the organization. After years of finishing at the bottom of the NHL, including three last-place finishes, the Sabres finally won the draft lottery after losing it the prior two times in 2014 and 2015.
The prize? An elite prospect that will become a cornerstone defenseman that the Sabres can build the defense corps around for years to come. You don't want to always throw the term "generational" around — though it seems to happen far too often — but Dahlin has been praised as a generational defensemen. When you constantly get compared to players like Niklas Lindstrom and Erik Karlsson, you are bound to be labeled with the "G" word.
And it appears there's no sign of the praise slowing down.
Near daily in Buffalo on local sports radio there is someone on the air to sing the praises of the 18-year-old blueliner. From TSN analyst Craig Button to former coaches from Frölunda HC of the Swedish Hockey League, not one person has a negative thing to say. Usually you'll get someone that tries to temper expectations of a young player set to enter the league, but that doesn't appear to be the case with Dahlin. Instead, it's more statements along the lines of he being to defenseman what Connor McDavid was to forwards when he came into the NHL in 2015.
That does nothing to squash the hype.
A two-way defenseman with the ability to play in almost any situation on the ice, Dahlin plays more like a veteran than a young kid. He's spent the last two seasons playing with men much older than him in Sweden, giving him an apparent step up on players who spend time in at the Junior level in North America. He has the shot, the passing, the skating and the defensive ability that no one can contain their excitement for Dahlin.
You see fans walking down the street talking about Sabres hockey in a positive light again. Radio stations no longer sound so bleak and negative. People are just waiting for the opportunity to get their hands on a Dahlin jersey this summer.
It's a similar feeling to that of when Jack Eichel was drafted in 2015, but this just feels so much more rewarding. Sabres fans feel like they finally have something they won, and that their suffering will finally come to an end after seven long playoff-less seasons.
Games and championships may not be decided at the Draft in June when Dahlin is called by general manager Jason Botterill, but that day will set the course of the future for years to come.