Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) – The Buffalo Sabres' representative for next month’s NHL All-Star Game in Vegas is Rasmus Dahlin. This is the first time Dahlin has been selected to play in the All-Star Game.
The Sabres' best player this season has been Tage Thompson, but he still could make the game if he’s voted in as the "Last Man In". Jeff Skinner got into the All-Star Game in 2019 after winning this vote.
Sabres head coach Don Granato believes Dahlin has earned his All-Star nod and should be there.
"He's in that class, and he was great again for us tonight," Granato said following Thursday night's win over the Nashville Predators. "There's no question he's All-Star caliber."
Dahlin had a rough start to his season, but when he was paired with Henri Jokiharju about a month ago, both of them started playing more minutes and a lot better. The young defenseman's biggest supporter, as of late, has been his head coach.
“It’s significant if you think of everybody who has talked about how prolific he is, but he hasn’t been to that level yet," Granato said. "This is much like a player from the American League getting called up for the first time. It’s a whole 'nother level, and a world of confidence can come from that type of an experience, being put into that type of a category. He’s deserving.”
Granato says there’s a reason why Dahlin has been playing better.
“You have defensemen that can kill a play, and then you have defensemen that can transition a play, that’s some of your more skilled, creative guys," he explained. "But there’s very few defensemen that can kill plays and transition plays. If you watch him, he can do both.”
There are many fans out there that feel Dahlin is so bad, he should be playing in the American Hockey League. Of course that’s ridiculous, but he gets ripped by some fans on a nightly basis.
“That comes with the territory of being the No. 1 pick overall," Granato said. "He’s our top [defenseman], he’s got nowhere to hide on our team. He’s -years-old, it’s not like he’s come into a super veteran team with supporting guys with longevity. There’s nobody to take heat off him.”
Dahlin doesn’t think he’s doing as well as Granato always talks about, but he’s a very humble kid. As far as averaging almost 24 minutes per-game, he believes he's taken the next step in his game.
“This is my first year playing against the other team’s top lines," Dahlin said following Thursday's win over the Predators. "Everything starts with defense. If you’re playing good D, you get confidence. So I have to build on this and work even harder.”
When Dahlin was struggling, he said right up-front that he was going to fix this. He was very confident that he could.
“Everything starts with hard work. There’s no way around it," Dahlin said. "I’m on a journey, so I’m not happy where I’m at and I want to get better.”
As far as being in the All-Star Game, Dahlin says he didn't really think about it at first, but realized it was a dream come true when it was announced.
“Wow, it’s a dream come true for sure. It’s awesome,” he said.
Through all this time, Dahlin knows his head coach has been his biggest supporter.
"'Donny' is an unbelievable coach," Dahlin said. "He gives every single guy in the locker room an opportunity, he gives confidence to everyone, and he tells everyone to go out and earn it. You have every chance in the world to succeed.”
As far as the game goes, Granato said he saw Aaron Dell play with the Rochester Americans last Friday and thought he looked like a different person. Granato was right, as Dell played really well to help beat a red-hot Nashville team 4-1. Dell made 29 saves for the win.
This was a total team win, the complete opposite of Tuesday's loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. That game was a complete lack of team effort.
This win was a very good recovery, as the Sabres came to play with a full effort that frustrated the Predators. Buffalo stayed aggressive, and never backed off to give Nashville hope.
Jeff Skinner scored two goals and picked up his 500th career NHL point.
Juuse Saros is one of the best goaltenders in the NHL this season, but he’s never beaten Buffalo, as his record fell to 0-3-1.
The Sabres are now 3-1-2 in their last six road games, with wins in three very difficult buildings in Winnipeg, Minnesota and Nashville.