After the debacle that was the 2016 trade deadline, there was plenty of justified hand wringing among Canucks fans headed into this year’s deadline, with folks worried that Jim Benning might once again walk away with nothing for a pair of expiring contracts.
Well, Benning put those worries to rest with nearly 48 to spare by dealing longterm Canuck and all around incredible human Alex Burrows to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Swedish prospect Jonathan Dahlen. Dahlen is just 19 years old and is playing in Sweden’s second tier professional league, Allsvenskan, so we can’t say for sure what he’s going to be yet. That said, at first glance, this looks like a very promising prospect, and given what the Canucks gave up (a soon-to-be-36-year old pending unrestricted free agent), this is a hell of a deal – easily one of Benning’s best with the Canucks to date.
Today we’ll be digging in to Jonathan Dahlen to see what the Canucks have gotten their hands on.
The Scouting Report
One of my favourite things to hear about a prospect are compliments about their hockey sense. In the modern NHL, a high hockey IQ can allow a player to overcome a lot of other faults, even when footspeed or shot release are an issue – just look at Henrik Sedin as an extreme example.
Dahlen has no issues with his shot release (it’s actually very good), and his foot speed, while it needs some work, is not poor enough to significantly hamper his ability to produce at the professional level, but that won’t make us appreciate any less the fact that he has a head for the game.
“What I really like about him is his hockey sense,” Shane Malloy told the TSN 1040 afternoon show after the trade. “He’s intelligent, understands where he needs to be, finds open ice. He’s opportunistic when it comes to goal scoring.”
That opportunism may be very helpful in overcoming one notable issue: the small stature. “The knock on Dahlen is he’s 170-ish pounds and he’s listed at 5’11” which means he’s probably 5’10”,” said TSN’s Ray Ferraro. “He’s not a big guy, but that’s less and less relevant today.”
In today’s fast paced NHL, speed and intelligence have diminished the requirement for size. And while he’s not a dynamic skater, he’s agile and quick on his edges, getting in and out of areas he needs to be in, rather than forcing himself there with brute strength. “He’s a darter,” Ferraro added.
“He’s not going to catch you with a lot of flash,” notes TSN’s Director of Scouting, Craig Button. “But boy does he know how to get around the net, get scoring opportunities, and finish those opportunities.”
Button also praised his intelligence. “He’s a smart player and I have no reason to believe he will not get his pace up to a standard that will allow him to be a top six player in the NHL.”
The areas that Dahlen is lacking in, speed and strength, are areas that players can and have made huge improvements in, even on a year-to-year basis. Look no further than Bo Horvat to see what a prospect can do with a combination of power skating lessons and a relentless attitude.
“It can improve and it has improve,” Button asserted. “Look at Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Are they fast? No. But they play fast and think fast. That’s what you need to do.”
He may not grow any more (vertically at least), but the importance of height has likely been largely overstated anyway. I’d much rather a smaller prospect with a higher level of intelligence. You can teach power skating and skill development, but thus far hockey sense has looked to be mostly innate.
While his hockey IQ is widely praised, Dahlen’s offensive abilities might be his greatest strength. “He can shoot, and he can really handle the puck,” notes Ferraro. Dahlen has consistently found himself near the top of not just his team, but his league, in shots on net, and he converts his fair share into goals. He does this with strong puck handling skills, and an accurate shot, but noticeably because he takes the puck to high-percentage areas. He has the agility and puck handling skills to work his way through traffic, and the shot to finish the job.
As a side note, the Vancouver Canucks are a team dying for some personality, and Jonathan Dahlen celebrates each and every goal as though he’s just won a championship. You have to appreciate that.
Statistical Analysis: Production
Dahlen has been a remarkably consistent this year, with only two multi-game pointless droughts all season – a two-game drought in late September, and a four-game drought in mid-November (the six game gap in the chart below are the games he missed while at the World Junior Championship, where he scored five goals and six point in seven games). He has points in 28 of the 46 games he’s played this season, and 12 multi-point games.
This season, Dahlen is tied for fourth in scoring, and third in points per game. Allsvenskan also tracks and releases TOI information, so we can also see that he ranks fifth in the league in points-per-60 minutes (in all situations).
Between Dahlen’s point totals and the point totals of his linemate, 2017 draft eligible Elias Pettersson, you’d be forgiven if you thought that numbers like theirs were routine for teenagers in the Allsvenskan – the thought certainly crossed my mind.
But that isn’t the case at all. Dahlen’s and Pettersson’s numbers are among the best ever by teenagers in Allsvenskan. With his goal yesterday, Dahlen now holds a clear lead for the most goals ever scored by an under-20 player in Sweden’s second tier league. His 44 points also place him sixth overall in that regard.
Note: this image is simply an updated version of the one that Canucks Prospects (@NucksWatch) posted on Twitter the other day.
Another note: Allsvenskan has him recorded for 25 goals, but after pulling all of Timra’s game sheets, I discovered that he’s actually scored 24 goals, and the 25th is actually a shoot-out winning goal. Evidently Allsvenskan counts shoot-out winners as goals, though not non-winning shoot-out goals, which seems a little silly. In other parts of this article, you may see me reference 24 goals or 43 points in situations where I’m quoting data from the game sheets, and this is the reason for the discrepancy.
This distribution of Allsvenskan players’ goals-per-60 minutes this season demonstrates how far above average Dahlen has been:.
Dahlen’s current shooting percentage of 13.9% is a couple of ticks about the league average for forwards, but it certainly isn’t exorbitant. He isn’t, as some would put it, riding a percentage high. Instead, his high volume of goal are coming as a result of his ridiculously high volume of shots.
After 45 games, Dahlen has put 180 shots on net. That raw total is good for second in the Allsvenskan, and second in shot on net per game, at an even 4.0.
This isn’t isolated to the Allsvenskan either. The pattern persisted at the World Juniors, where Dahlen led all players in shots on net (with 34) and shots on net per game (with 4.86).
Further inviting optimism is where Dahlen tends to shoot (and score) from. While he has the ability to score from distance, he isn’t relying on firing pucks past Allsvenskan goalies for the majority of his goals. He take the puck hard to the net and creates chances in high-danger, high-percentage areas. Often, he achieves positive results, such as in the highlight clip below: Dahlen scored three goals in a WJC preliminary game against the Czechs, and all three goals came from within six feet of the net.
Statistical Analysis: Linemates/Deployment
Despite being listed as both a centre and a winger, Dahlen hasn’t really been deployed as a centre at all in the year-plus he has spent in the Allsvenskan. This season he has taken just 20 faceoffs; last season he took just 16. His 36% faceoff-winning percentage indicates either that he’s rusty from last of practice, or that they aren’t a strength of his game. So it appears, as Daniel Wagner has already pointed out, that Dahlen is not on track to take over as the Canucks’ number one centre in the future.
Of course, that might work out just fine.
“I like him better on the left wing because he’s primarily a shooter than than a passer,” prospect guru Shane Malloy told the TSN 1040 afternoon show. “He’s not the biggest guy, but he shoots the puck exceptionally well.” I’ll invoke the adage ‘Why try to fix what isn’t broken?’ here. Dahlen is clearly finding plenty of success as a winger, it would seem foolish to try to force him into the middle at this point.
Dahlen began the season on a line with 33-year old centre Sebastian Lauritzen and 27-year old winger Johan Persson, with 17-year old Elias Pettersson centering the second line. As the season progressed, Pettersson spent more and more time on Timra’s top line with Dahlen, sometimes in place to Lauritzen and then in addition to him.
The three of them have become a stable line for the last month and a half of the season, and Pettersson and Lauritzen have now been Dahlen’s most frequent linemates over the entirety of the campaign.
It’s no wonder that Timra head coach Roger Forsberg has kept the trio of Dahlen, Pettersson and Lauritzen together of late, as it has produced excellent results. Dahlen has 11 goals and 20 points in the 14 games since they started the January 23rd game as the top line. 16 of his 43 points have come with both Pettersson and Lauritzen on the ice, while he’s tallied just five points in the limited time he’s been away from both of them.
Their on-ice results as a group have been dominant. Dahlen himself has seen strong numbers no matter who he has played with, and the same can be said of Elias Pettersson. It’s pretty clear that the two teenagers are carrying the older Lauritzen however.
Ask around the NHL, and you’ll evidently get differing opinions on what Jonathan Dahlen projects to be, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.
“I talked to a couple teams that said no question in their minds he’s gonna be a top six scoring winger in the National Hockey League,” McKenzie told the TSN 1040 morning show on Tuesday. “I talked to a couple teams that said because he’s not a dynamic skater and he’s more of a top-of-the-circles-down guy that he probably slots more as a third line winger. And I talked to a couple of teams that said they’re a little concerned about some of his skating and strength, even though he’s only 19-years old, and that he’s not an absolute guarantee to be a top nine forward in the National Hockey League, so it’s kind of all over the map, but there’s no question that he’s got some pedigree.”
Using the pGPS system to compare Dahlen against his historical peers, the results from the Allsvenskan are barren. Blame Dahlen for having such a productive season at a young age for that.
Expanding the sample to Europe’s top professional leagues yields a lot more matches: 16 in total, split between the SHL, Liiga, Czech Extraliga, and the KHL (and its predecessor, the RSL). The already age- and era-adjusted production rates were league-adjusted as well to account for differences in difficulty and ability between leagues.
Dahlen’s cohort accomplished the feat of playing 200 NHL games 31% of the time, with the successful matches scoring an average of 72 points per 82 games in the NHL. While 31% isn’t an overwhelmingly positive total, we have a caveat to consider when including cohorts from European, and especially Russian leagues: some players here may have achieved success in the NHL, even modestly so, but decided to never make the jump to North America.
Unlike the chart that I gave to Ryan Biech the other day, the points-per-game values on this y-axis are league adjusted, so you don’t get the misleading impression that Dahlen is outscoring members of his cohort like Nicklas Backstrom, Daniel Sedin, and Markus Naslund.
The fact that Dahlen has been playing in Swedish second tier league rather than the SHL may have dampened what could otherwise be very high expectations on this young man. That’s lucky for the Canucks and their fans, as if Dahlen had been producing equivalent points in the SHL this season, the Senators might have been far more reticent to part with him.
The Canucks got a great prospect in Jonathan Dahlen, and the fact that they acquired him straight up for a 35-year old on an expiring contract makes the pick up all the more impressive. A 42nd overall pick just six months ago, Dahlen has already improved his stock tremendously since then between his World Junior showing and leading a men’s team in scoring. This is a trade that Ottawa could really rue down the road, even with Burrows paying early dividends in the nation’s capital.
The 19-year old passes the eye test of the industry’s most trusted scouts, and looks great on paper as well. In depth analysis suggests that his current numbers are well deserved and based off of play generation and intelligent practices, and not the result of unsustainable shooting percentages or riding the coattails of teammates. By all views, Jonathan Dahlen is the real deal.
How far up the lineup he plays in the NHL, assuming he sticks there, will be further evidenced by how he handles the next couple of seasons on the road to the NHL, be that with another season in the Allsvenskan, a move up to the SHL, or a jump to North America and the American Hockey League, as Jim Benning has already publicly expressed interest in. If they do want to bring Dahlen over here sooner rather than later, they would have they opportunity to sign him to a PTO with the Utica Comets once his Allsvenskan season and playoffs are finished.
As for his place in the Canucks prospect pool, Dahlen easily jumps straight into the top five. After the blue chippers in Brock Boeser, Olli Juolevi and Thatcher Demko, I’d have Dahlen duking it out with fellow new arrival Nikolay Goldobin, though I’d have to give Goldobin the edge at this point given that he appears to have conquered the AHL and looks poised to step in an NHL lineup already.
Still, the addition of Dahlen, and Goldobin, has vastly improved the look of the Canucks prospect pool, and gives them more potential top six scorers for the future. That’s a win for any team, but an especially large one for a franchise that desperately needed something to look forward to.