For Dahlen, there are no regrets
Flashy winger satisfied with his decision to play final season in Sweden rather than join Canucks’ AHL team
TORONTO — Back in the fall, the Vancouver Canucks had a plan for Jonathan Dahlen that went something like this:
Dahlen would attend his first NHL camp, then head to Utica, N.Y. and a full season in the AHL. There, he would take a crash course in the unforgiving world of the pro game, North American style, which would accelerate his development.
As an extra incentive, there might be a couple NHL games with the parent club but the larger point was Dahlen, an elite prospect who still had some maturing to do, would emerge as more complete player who’d be one step closer to everyday duty in the NHL.
This, in the Canucks’ mind, was a fine plan.
There was just one problem. Dahlen had a different plan and while it’s unclear how the Canucks felt about his plan, it’s pretty clear how Dahlen feels about the way things worked out.
“I wanted to stay and finish what we started,” Dahlen said Friday, referring to his decision to return to Sweden and play this season for his hometown Timra team in the Swedish second division. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
“I think I made a good decision. I took a lot of responsibility this year. I think I’ve grown as a person and a player. It was my biggest dream I’ve ever had to take Timra up the top league.”
Even if the dream now gives way to the reality of the next phase of his career.
On this day Dahlen is practising with the Comets as they prepare for their first-round playoff series against the Toronto Marlies. The indication is he won’t dress for Saturday’s Game 1. The Comets have 24 players in Toronto, including the core of a team that battled through a number of obstacles to claim fourth place in the AHL’s North Division and a meeting with the first-place Marlies.
Dahlen was on board for the final two games of the regular season, recording a goal and an assist in the finale against Binghamton, but Comets’ head coach Trent Cull said Friday: “He’s certainly close but right now I think we have our guys. We’ll see. You never know what the series will bring.”
Or, come to think of it, what a season will bring and Dahlen is living proof of that.
Two weeks ago, Dahlen and Timra finished off an epic comeback against Karlskrona in Sweden’s relegation series, winning promotion for the club and a sacred place for Dahlen in its supporters’ hearts.
Down 3-1, Timra rattled off three consecutive wins over the elite league team behind Dahlen’s scoring and Norwegian goalie Henrik Haukeland who recorded a 2-0 shutout in the deciding Game 7.
Timra will now play in the elite league next season for the first time since the 2012-13 campaign.
“The difference between the two leagues is huge financially,” said former Canucks’ defenceman Mattias Ohlund, who works out of Sweden in the team’s player development department. “They’ll get TV money now. The travel will be better.
“I think there might have been some hesitation but it turned out well for Jonathan. It was a good year for him. He didn’t lose anything by playing in his hometown.” Even if it didn’t always look that way. Back in early September, the Canucks’ best-laid plans for Dahlen underwent a hasty revision when the prize prospect came down with mononucleosis. He was eventually cleared to play in Utica where he suited up for a couple of exhibition games and quickly concluded he wasn’t ready physically for the grind of the AHL.
With several elite-league teams vying for his services — including Vaxjo where his longtime buddy and Canucks’ first-rounder Elias Pettersson was playing — Dahlen was determined to rejoin Timra, where he and Pettersson had starred the season before.
The Canucks weren’t thrilled with that decision but Dahlen was. He also had a clause in his contract that allowed him to move to Utica or the elite league at the end of January. Despite overtures from any number of clubs in Sweden’s top league he chose to stick with Timra.
“Only a fool without a heart would leave Timra,” he said at the time.
“It was pretty clear that he wanted one more big year in Sweden,” his agent J.P. Barry said. “In hindsight, it’s exactly what should have happened. It was the slower way to go but it was the right way.”
Dahlen, in fact, would record 23 goals and 44 points in 44 games in the Allsvenskan before rattling off 14 points in Timra’s 10 playoff games. Just so you know, the last player to lead Timra out of the second division into the elite league was Detroit icon Henrik Zetterberg.
“You can ask anyone,” said Ohlund. “(Dahlen) was the best player (in the series against Karlskrona).”
As for the future, it doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to project Dahlen and Pettersson playing together in Vancouver two or three years from now. The son of former NHLer Ulf Dahlen, Jonathan isn’t as big as his father but has the same slippery quality to his game and can make plays in the battleground areas.
When they were playing together, Pettersson was generally the setup man and Dahlen was the sniper, not unlike a couple of other Swedes who played in Vancouver.
“We were roommates in Timra for 2½ years,” Dahlen said of Pettersson, who led the elite league in scoring this season. “We played on the same line. We’re good buddies.”
How good? There’s a clip from Swedish TV of Pettersson fighting back tears after he’s told Timra had completed the comeback against Karlskrona and won promotion.
No need to ask him what he thought about Dahlen’s decision.