Sweden’s Dahlin, Pettersson meet for first time in NHL
Former teammates aren’t close, but have enormous respect for each other
The story of the Canucks’ first season without the Sedin twins is far different than anyone in the NHL anticipated. Rather than rebuilding, the Canucks arrived in Buffalo late Thursday night with the second-most points in the Western Conference, led by the league’s top rookie.
Elias Pettersson, a 19-year-old center, was drafted fifth overall in 2017 and missed six games last month because of a concussion, yet he’s already feared by opponents. So much so that it’s a story when Pettersson doesn’t score.
Though he had an assist in a 8-5 victory over the Bruins on Thursday night, failing to score prevented him from becoming only the fourth player since 1920-21 to score 11 or more goals through his first 11 career games.
He was only the fifth player to score 10 goals in his first 10, and his immediate impact has surprised many across the league.
Not Rasmus Dahlin. Chosen with the No. 1 by the Sabres in June, the 18-year-old defenseman was Pettersson’s teammate for Sweden at the World Junior Championships the past two seasons, including last year’s tournament in Buffalo. Now, the two will face each other at KeyBank Center on Saturday when the Sabres host the Canucks at 1 p.m. in a matchup that will be broadcast live in their home country.
“I know he’s skilled,” Dahlin said with a grin. “It’s going to be fun to see him play. Of course he’s had a great start. I’m not surprised. It’s going to be fun.”
Not surprised? That comment raised a few eyebrows after the Sabres’ practice Friday afternoon, yet few in the league knew Pettersson’s game better than Dahlin. The two faced each other in the Swedish Hockey League last season,
when Pettersson led all scorers with 56 points in 42 games and guided Vaxjo to the championship with 19 points in 13 playoff games.
The lightning-quick release on his left-handed shot wowed NHL scouts, and his play at his country’s highest level earned him the reputation of being a complete player. But his stock began to rise months earlier when he and Dahlin helped Sweden reach the finals at the World Junior Championships.
Dahlin was named an All-Star for the tournament and given the title of best defenseman, and Pettersson left a lasting impression on his opponents. Sabres center Casey Mittelstadt represented Team USA at the tournament and still marvels at Pettersson’s go-ahead goal against him in the semifinals.
“I think the thing that really stood out to me was how he shot the puck against us,” Mittelstadt recalled. “Obviously he moves well. He’s silky with the puck, but I think his shot is pretty impressive. Obviously it’s great to see a young guy doing that in the league. I think we saw a little bit of it last year at World Juniors, and now you guys get to see it full time in North America. It’s good to see.”
The Sabres don’t want to see that shot in their first meeting with the Canucks. Despite the departures of Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Vancouver is atop the Pacific Division and second in the Western Conference with 21 points in 17 games.
Pettersson is the talk of the league, as his assist Thursday night gave him eight more points than any rookie. Dahlin, meanwhile, has a plus-4 rating with one goal and four assists in 16 games.
This will be their first meeting in the NHL and though they’re not close, there’s a mutual respect.
“It’s more fun to have him on the same team,” Pettersson said of Dahlin following the Canucks’ practice at KeyBank Center on Friday. “He’s good defensively and sometimes he plays like a forward. … He brings a lot to his team, and of course it’s harder to play against him than to have him on the same team.”
Dahlin isn’t producing at a historic pace, but Pettersson Buf falo Sabres
West Seneca East defensive back Zach Arnone intercepts an Irondequoit pass Friday night at Clarence High School.
Cleveland Hill running back D’Mario Grant gains yardage against Warsaw-Letchworth on Friday night.
Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, left, and Canucks center Elias Pettersson played for Sweden in the World Junior Championships the past two seasons, including last year in Buffalo.