After being unable to consummate a deal at the 2016 NHL trade deadline to unload pending unrestricted free agents like Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata, expectations were considerably lower at the 2017 deadline, especially considering that Jim Benning had come out and publicly revealed that he wouldn’t be trying to trade players with no-trade clauses.
Of course, that turned out of be a smokescreen of sorts, and when the deadline finally rolled around, Jim made two of his best moves as the GM of the Vancouver Canucks, turning a couple of 30+ veteran into bonafide prospects. One of those was Nikolay Goldobin, who was acquired from the Sharks in exchange of Jannik Hansen, and was covered this morning as the number six prospect on this list. The other was Jonathan Dahlen, a skilled Swedish winger plucked from the Ottawa Senators in return for Alex Burrows.
We’ve changed the qualifications up just a little bit this year. Being under the age of 25 is still mandatory (as of the coming September 15th), but instead of Calder Trophy rules, we’re just requiring players to have played less than 25 games in the NHL (essentially ignoring the Calder Trophy’s rule about playing more than six games in multiple seasons).
Graduates from this time last year include Brendan Gaunce, Troy Stecher, and Nikita Tryamkin, while Anton Rodin is simply too old now, and Jake Virtanen is not being considered solely as a result of his games played.
First things first, the fact that Sens fans were unhappy about the trade is undoubtedly a good sign. With Ottawa-based Andrew DiRienzo of the Hockey Writers calling the trade and outright “mistake” by Senators GM Pierre Dorion, and Ross A. of Silver Seven Sens calling it “the worst trade of [Dorion’s] tenure“, the deliciousness of the tears of a swindled Canadian rival would be sustenance enough, but of course we get a prospect out of it that should be an important part of Vancouver’s core for years going forward.
Picked 42nd overall in 2016, Dahlen’s stock has only risen since then, and given his performance in the Allsvenskan last season, a re-draft would surely have him in the first round of that draft. Following a fantastic season in which he put up 44 points in 45 games in Sweden’s tier 2 professional league, the son of long time NHLer Ulf Dahlen was named the top junior aged player in the league.
I covered Dahlen quite heavily when he was acquired by the Canucks, so much like in the article I wrote about Evan McEneny last week, I’ll direct you to the Deep Dive if you’re so inclined, and just give you the highlights here.
Dahlen’s play has garnered him a lot of fans in the media, who have been impressed by his skillset and intelligence. Here’s a smattering of praise from analysts with a keen interest in prospects:
“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 one area in which Dahlen has been criticized is his speed on his skates. He’s an agile player (a darter, as Ferraro said), but he certainly isn’t a burner. However, his skating has improved dramatically since he was drafted, and it will probably continue to improve as he develops. While we wouldn’t want to heap too much pressure on Dahlen’s shoulders with an unfair comparison, we can look at the Sedins twins for an example of players that have used puck skills and intelligence to overcome deficits in speed.
Dahlen showed remarkable consistency in his production, considering that he was a teenager in a professional league. The first half of his season contained nearly as many multi-point games as the second half, and there were only two occurrences where he held without a point for consecutive games.
Obviously, it’s hard to talk about Dahlen at this point without also discussing Elias Pettersson. As fans are well aware, Dahlen and Pettersson, the 5th overall selection by the Canucks in 2017, were teammates on Timra IK in the Allsvenskan. There they spent a large part of the season playing together as Timra’s top line.
Through various parts of the season, the Timra coach tried both Pettersson and Dahlen as centres (Pettersson spent a large chunk of the first half of the season as the second line centre), but both players, and the team in general, were most successful when they were playing together. They suited up on opposite wings with a veteran centre in between them. During the time they spent with Sebastian Lauritzen, they were the hottest trio in the league. As you’ll see below, that hard a lot more to do with the two teenagers than it did with Laurtizen.
You may also notice that Pettersson was slightly better without Dahlen than Dahlen was without Pettersson. This discrepancy repeated itself in terms of production in addition to this on-ice event data. Both are indications that Pettersson bore a little more responsibility for their positive results than Dahlen, which is okay (especially since the Canucks own the rights to both players), as Pettersson is fairly universally seen as the better prospect (which is why Dahlen is being profiling today and Pettersson has yet to make his appearance on this list).
That doesn’t mean that Dahlen’s results aren’t impressive though. Even without Pettersson, he was well above 50% in goals-for ratio, and was the main catalyst in almost every other line combination. Dahlen also fared better than Pettersson last season in international play. During the World Junior tournament, Dahlen put up seven points in six games and led the whole tournament in shots on goal. His shot numbers were equally as impressive in the Allsvenskan, where he averaged about four shots per game, finishing second in the league in that category.
Dahlen’s 2017-18 season is currently a matter of debate. He has the option of returning to Sweden and playing with Elias Pettersson in Vaxjo of the SHL (an option that I quite like for him), but as of now his plan seems to be to attend Canucks training camp, which could lead a season in the American Hockey League instead. Even that is currently up in the air, as it was recently reported that Dahlen has been diagnosed with mononucleosis, forcing him to miss the Young Stars prospect tournament in Penticton. While Dahlen claims he wants to get back to playing right away, this illness can often persist for months after a diagnosis is rendered, and continue to take its toll on a player well after they’ve been cleared to return to play. Which means, we should keep that in careful consideration in the event that Dahlen gets off to a bit of a sluggish start when he does return to play.
He will return to full health eventually though, and when he does, he’ll continue to be one of the Canucks top prospects. Should he spend the year in North America, I don’t think it would be out of the question for him to see some NHL game action towards the end of the season. As for when he’ll stick with the club full time, I’d predict that both he and Pettersson will be roster regulars in the 2019-20 season, and that they’ll begin their ascension into the top six shortly after that.