Even if you haven’t seen Rasmus Dahlin play a full game, you’ve probably seen some highlight video of the projected first-overall pick of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. The number of times he’s deked through entire teams, even at the professional level, is simply ridiculous. And while talent is the most important factor here, there is a recipe to his success.
Let’s take a look at a couple of rushes he had against Team USA in the semifinal of the world juniors.
Here’s the first clip at (almost) full speed.
At first, Dahlin gets lucky when US forward Kailer Yamamoto (#17) can’t control a failed pass attempt. But only a couple of seconds later, Dahlin is inches away from scoring in a one-on-one battle against the goaltender.
How did he do it?
The first important thing are his feet. Keeping your feet spread out wide helps a lot with deceptive dekes. It’s difficult for defenders to read where you are going, and simultaneously allows quick cuts without losing much speed.
This may seem like an easy step and something everybody does, but what makes Dahlin so special is the way he takes even the little things to another level.
After moving past Ryan Poehling (#4) and having his pass ricochet off of a skate, Dahlin needs to keep the puck away from Yamamoto. He executes a quick crossover to get in Yamamoto’s way, putting his body between the puck and his opponent. As a result, his feet are extremely close together, but only for a split-second.
Dahlin is aware of the space to his left, so he makes sure to get in there quickly, get his legs spread out and evaluate his options. In the frame below, his feet are actually pointing in different directions, giving the defence no indication for where he’s headed next. Depending on where he puts his weight down, he can either try to go through the middle or cut to the outside.
Also note how he’s carrying the puck on his forehand here. This leaves defenceman Dylan Samberg (#12), who can’t commit to Dahlin because of the Swede getting open behind him, in solid position for the time being.
Of course, Dahlin is not the kind of player that gets pushed to the outside. He lifts up his right foot and cuts hard to the middle. Thanks to incredible edge work and his quick hands, he can pull the puck to his backhand before Samberg can react. His right foot off the ice, he can take an actual step into the middle lane while allowing the puck to be pulled in closer to his body.
This brings us to another important skill. Dahlin has an excellent understanding of where his hands need to be on his stick. By pulling his top hand up and keeping his bottom hand low, he can pull the puck in almost under his body, right to where his right foot was just a frame earlier.
At this point, Samberg has long made his decision, coming in aggressively for a poke-check, but it’s too late to steal the puck.
Dahlin now has three defenders in his immediate vicinity, all within maybe two feet. The puck is positioned right between the two defenders, and Scott Perunovich (#15) might be close enough to reach the puck with his stick, despite his 5-foot-9 frame.
But, this is where Dahlin’s hand positioning comes in a second time. As soon as he’s pulled the puck in from his forehand, he pushes his top hand through, but lets the bottom hand move up his stick. This allows him to push the puck through the defensive line while keeping it on his stick blade and under control.
The image below is just three frames later, yet a lot has changed. Samberg, who went for a straight poke-check, now has his stick between Dahlin’s legs – far, far away from the puck – which takes him out of the play. With Samberg out of the way, there is no way for Yamamoto to apply pressure from behind, leaving only Perunovich to try to do some damage control.
In this little clip, Dahlin beat four (!) opponents with one lucky bounce and a single move.
Again, here’s the clip at full speed.
Dahlin skates the puck up ice coming from behind his own net. But instead of switching to a straight stride, he continues using crossovers as he moves toward Poehling, who is the first forechecker and responsible for angling Dahlin into the boards.
In the frame below, Dahlin just put down his outside foot for the crossover. There are now two logical possibilities for his next step: He could either set down his inside foot to go into a straight forward stride or pull it more to the inside for the next crossover. Poehling is skating backwards within the dots with more than two stick-lengths between him and Dahlin at this point – so everything looks great here from his perspective.
But that’s about to change.
Dahlin never puts his inside foot down. Instead of the two options outlined above, he uses his elite edge control to start cutting into the middle on one foot, without losing much speed.
In the frame below, everything still looks okay for Poehling, who keeps moving toward the boards at an angle. It’s clear to see where Dahlin is going in a freeze frame, and it looks like Poehling still has a chance to just move into the middle himself, but that doesn’t do the play justice.
Dahlin’s ability to cut into a different direction without losing speed is absolutely elite. The picture below is just four frames after the one above, but he’s suddenly got an open lane on the inside, with Poehling still gliding backwards toward the boards.
Another five frames and one quick crossover later, he’s gone completely.
Through the neutral zone, Dahlin finds an open lane that lets him effortlessly pass Samberg and Joey Anderson (#13).
Once in the offensive zone, we got to see more of what he displayed in the first clip. Dahlin finds himself in the centre of three US defenders. He spreads out his legs with the puck on his forehand and again wants to cut through the middle by pulling it to his backhand.
Only this time, the defender in front of him is in much better position, so Dahlin has to go through him rather than around. He pushes the puck up behind the defender, again adjusting his hand positioning to do so, and pulls it through to his backhand. Instead of taking a step to the inside, he simply uses his incredible balance to put his weight on the inside leg and pull through while the outside leg is “stopped” by Adam Fox (#8).
Again, Dahlin simply drives through a group of defenders and comes out behind them with the puck on his stick.
This time, he didn’t get a shot on net because Poehling recovered from earlier and backchecked hard to come in and lift Dahlin’s stick in the perfect moment. But, this scene again showcased Dahlin’s incredible talent level.
Doing this sort of thing at the NHL level isn’t easy. But if there’s a prospect likely to have the ability, it’s Dahlin with his elite skating and puck-handling skill.