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Breaking down Rasmus Dahlin’s elite stick-handling skill

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.

Clip 1

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.

Clip 2

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.

  • Great moves but even guys like McDavid can be shut down. What I noticed was a failure to exercise gap control and physicality. They didn’t stand him up at the blueline and close the gap to one stick length. The classic example of watching and trying to play the puck instead of the man.

  • ned

    Even if we don’t get Dahlin, I would really love for Benning to do a house cleaning and basically just trade away everyone who isn’t a part of the future. Pretty much what Toronto did a few seasons ago and call up the farm to finish off the season. Returns would obviously be mostly futures and a few fill in players, but stockpiling draft picks for this upcoming draft would be a wise move IMHO. After all we are in the middle of a rebuild.

    • OK, we need to kill this “Toronto Tank” success legend asap. Toronto drafted 20 players in 2015 and 2016 when they were full-on tank. Only Matthews and Marner are contributing…Dermott technically has 1 game but was just sent back to the farm. All of the major pieces were drafted in the regular manner, mostly using Toronto’s original 1st round pick: Nylander, Kadri, Reilly. Other key players like Komarov, Gardiner and van Riemsdyk were acquired years ago. How many players from Lamoriello trades since he was hired in 2015 are playing? None of them are a key piece. Zaitsev was a good free agent pick-up that has nothing to do to a sell-off.

      The myth that Toronto tanked, stocked up by selling off in 2 years and are a contender now is pure bull$hit. They got a franchise player in Matthews that tied together all of the players acquired over the last 5-6 years through a steady build.

      • TheRealPB

        That’s a really good point — I’ve always said the Toronto talk is misleading because they actually leveraged their economic power to rid themselves of bad contracts and take on others in exchange for more picks. However, it’s also true that outside of the high picks they did make (Marner, Nylander, Matthews, Reilly) they haven’t really hit on any others of their draft selections yet. It’s all well and good to have 9 and 11 draft picks in the 2015 and 2016 drafts, but you’d hope you’d have more upside for more of them.

        • Puck Viking

          So why are the Canucks not taking on bad contracts for picks too?? That is something that logical fans have been asking for. Those drafts were a couple of years ago and you expect all 11 picks in nhl now? developing takes time, are you saying juolevi or petterson is a bust because they are not in the nhl already? GET REAL.

          Toronto stocked picks and now have depth moving forward and will be competitive for years once they plug a hole on defense.

        • Dirk22

          Do you think maybe it’s because Toronto was/is setting themselves up for something sustainable? Not a lot of 2015/16 picks coming up yet (which is normal) but you can guarantee they will have more NHL contributors coming out of those drafts than you-know-who. What a concept.

      • andyg

        I have said that in the past. They never stripped down to the bare bones. They just unloaded the dead wood and built around a solid group of young players who were mostly in place. Then they pulled a horse shew out of their ***.
        This would be the same thing for any new manager who might take over the Canucks. They might strip it down but they would have a solid group of young players to build around.
        It could be a great pr stunt for the Canucks. They could bring in a new GM who would say that they need to strip it down and rebuild. Buy them selves two years of bottom feeding and then rock with a new youthful group.

      • Puck Viking

        Toronto stripped it down when a franchise player was around to draft guess what they got one because they tanked. After years of trying to be competitive they finally did the right thing you know something this franchise has failed to do.

  • Burnabybob

    Man, Rasmus Dahlin would make life easier for the Canucks’ organization. He would go a long way toward rebuilding their much-maligned defence, while helping their power play and penalty kill. You look at the top teams, and they all seem to have a stud defenseman like Dahlin who combines size and skill and who can play in all situations.

    Let’s not kid ourselves, though. The Canucks have never had any luck with the NHL’s games of chance, and they aren’t likely to pick first in June. The good news is that there are other D-men available, like Boqvist, Smith, Dobson and Bouchard.

    • apr

      I have a feeling that the Nucks like Bouchard a lot, particularly as he’s played with Juolevi. That said, I hope they get a top 2 pick and land one of Dahlin and Boquvist.

        • Burnabybob

          Trading down is much easier said than done.Trading is tricky under ideal circumstances, and if they tried to trade down to 7-9 they would only have a handful of possible trade partners.

          Knowing how things generally go for the Canucks with the draft lottery, they probably won’t pick until the 5-10 range anyway, so this is probably all academic.

          • Puck Viking

            This is the worst team in the league. At worst they will pick 4. Sabres and Coyotes are both finally healthy and playing better so hopefully they jump us in the standings.

          • Puck Viking

            They have no choice due to mismanagement. At least a top 5 pick will be better than most years this year and 4 or 5 defensemen we can trade back for if we need to.

          • Puck Viking

            Trade back to 6 or 7 pick up assets and draft defense. What does this fan base not understand about how bad of a spot we are in due to trading away picks and prospects and not making deals. We have juolevi as the guy with top 4 potential in the system. They take years to develop. We need to add 4 legit top pairing potential guys this off season and even then it will be at best 4 years before they are making an impact.

      • crofton

        And you have what’s supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender languishing near last place. Did I mention the “generational player” and all the 1st overall picks?

      • Ragnarok Ouroboros

        I always find it funny how you troll the forums of other teams instead of your Oilers. It’s sad… Do you have a job, or do you sit in your bedroom while your mom is downstairs making your meals and doing your laundry. I just don’t know whether to pity you or be annoyed by you.

  • Wise Canuck

    Awesome player. This kid is everything we were promised Juolevi would be… the team that picks Rasmus will be challenging for the cup in just a few years, while Canuck cheerleader tu tu wearers will still be bleating about being patient five years down the road like they are with another Benning bust Virtanen lol

    • Not only do you not watch the games, you don’t read the scouting reports either. Dahlen and Juolevi are scouted as completely different types of players. Dahlen is a physical, dynamic, high scoring point producer whereas Juolevi is a defense-first defender whose game is predicated on hockey sense, positioning, gap control and stick work. Dahlen leads the rush whereas Juolevi lets the forwards lead the offense.

      Your Stanley Cup prediction is just as flakey. The Oilers drafted the best player in hockey in McDavid and they’ve gotten worse since drafting him.

      • andyg

        Juolevi and Dahlin would be a top pairing made in heaven.
        The Oilers have followed the same path that they did a few years back. They have committed the vault on two players. They need to pray that the cap goes through the roof.

    • Puck Viking

      Juolevi was expected to be a top 4 defensemen when picked and nothing more. He was seen as Tanev with a bit more skill. Anyone who expects more is an idiot.

      Dahlin might be the best defensive prospect ever, yet most fans dont want to try and get him and want to keep players like Gudbranson and Vanek for a “playoff push”.

      • bobdaley44

        Like tanking would get him. Give me a break. Keeping Vanek and Gudbranson has nothing to do with a playoff push. It allows them to compete at least. See what losing every game by a wide margin does to the development of young players. Very detrimental.

        • Ser Jaime Lannister

          uuummm….This team is losing badly by a wide margin lol, those two do not keep us competitive, nor do MDZ or sam gagner… fringe FA signings. Come on bob, try watching the games sober! collect picks and lets draft a winner!

          • bobdaley44

            Those free agent signings sure have helped with all the injuries. Nothing like kids playing tons when they haven’t earned it. Veterans help with the culture. Besides the Oilers in the eighties no team has won the cup with mainly young players. Im good with the signings. If you say they’re losing badly now take those guys out of the lineup and see what happens.

        • Benning flip-flopped on Juolevi. Initially, he said he didn’t see any Top 2 D-men but as the draft came closer, he said one guy was farther ahead than the other potential two. I believe he was backtracking in case he ended up drafting Juolevi.

    • LiborPolasek

      I agree that the chances of the team that drafts Dahlin will improve but it is no guarantee; look at McJesus and the Oilers. Sure they made a run last year but that is looking like an anomaly rather than the new norm. The expensive and core players had been healthy most of the year but the result is looking like another top five pick. Unlike, other sports hockey really is a team game because of the goalie factor. Having high end talent up and down the line up is great but not sustainable in the world of reality and the cap. The season is a grind and the playoffs are just a battle that is why I believe having quality depth with solid goaltending are alot more necessary im hockey than having high end player(s) (wll eventually get expensive) at every position. I am not arguing that a team does not need high end talent but the equation to winning is alot more complicated.

      I admit that I was not ecstatic with the Virtanen pick or even the Boeser pick at the time of the draft because Boeser was a not a player I heard alot off coming into the draft and with the Virtanen pick I gotta give kudos to a Canuckarmy blogger that gave a pretty good reason as to why Virtanen should not be the pick. Virtanen is a really talented player but he seems to be a player that needs an aggressive and creative playmaker to drive the play; perhaps EP is that person. Time to move on and give JBs’ picks a chance to play with each other. Even for Yzerman, it took him atleast 3 or 4 years to rebuild. In a few years lets look at JB’s whole body of work.

      Always easy to criticize with hindsight, especially, when it comes to drafting.

  • wojohowitz

    Makes me wonder about the last D-man picked first overall – Ekblad and his concussion problems. Lots of talent and potential but no professional experience. Maybe he should not have been in the NHL as an eighteen year old and the other side of the coin – Did Edler or Tanev ever suffer concussion problems or did they learn how to avoid getting concussed?

    • truthseeker

      Tanev has his injury issues but he’s so good at knowing where he is on the ice that he doesn’t put himself into those potential situations very often, so he lowers his chances quite a lot. Most of his injuries seem to be of the bad luck variety.

  • Wise Canuck

    Let’s see…
    Legit number one centre – Dylan Larkin
    Legit top pair D man with offensive upside and PP QB – Mikhail Sergachev
    Legit Power forward winger with grit, attitude and star power – Matt Tkachuk
    Legit scoring wingers – Pastranak, Ehlers, Nylander
    plus Keller,Tuch, Lillegren, McAvoy

    All available to the Vancouver Canucks at the draft, ALL passed on by the ‘guru’ Benning.

    Meanwhile the Vegas Knights are playoff bound in their first season with no superstars, no draftees on the team yet and everyone elses castoffs (Sbisa anyone)… smell the coffee blowhards – Benning is a joke and must NOT be allowed to ruin our hockey club any further after four years of ineptitude.

    Dahlin and the playoffs under a new GM please…

    • While Benning can be fairly criticized for passing on Ehlers, Nylander and Tkachuk, you’re totally out to lunch on everyone else you mentioned. In 2014, we picked #6 and in 2016, we picked #5. You can see that the players that you highlighted were picked within their ranking range. All you’ve demonstrated is how inept you are as an armchair GM.

      Larkin drafted at #15 in 2014. Ranked 14-22.
      Tuch drafted at #18 in 2014. Ranked 12-27.
      Pastrnak drafted at #26 in 2014. Ranked 4-25.

      Sergachev drafted at #9 in 2016. Ranked 8-10.
      MacAvoy drafted at #14 in 2016. Ranked 12-41.

      • Wise Canuck

        Listen p(r)ick i don’t CARE what they were ranked by who… ALL these fantastic players were available to a GM who had the nouce to pick them for the Vancouver Canucks hockey club… NONE were chosen by Benning.

        Fire this inept bum who was specifically hired to rebuild the team with NHL ready talent and has not delivered LOOK at the standings ffs – end of story.

        • No CA Mod

          “Listen p(r)ick i don’t CARE what they were ranked by who…” ‘Wise’ Canuck
          This type of language and hostility must not be tolerated.
          Your site is an unregulated mess,J.D..

          • LiborPolasek

            Dont bother responding to Mr hindsight drafting for he does not really look at drafting as nothing more than a game you play in an xbox. Drafting is just the beginning when it comes to player developement.

  • Jabs

    Clip #2 is a thing of beauty
    What I noticed is that he seems to easily change speeds, he can do so with each stride or every time he changes direction. This outs defenders on their heels and unable to react quick enough to keep up and check the skater.

  • Rebuilds30

    Two fan polls of Canucks fans, including Canucks Army as well as Nucks Misconduct asked Vancouver fans which team’s prospect pool would they rather have, our Canucks or the Boston Bruins prospects?? The results were..
    Vancouver-32%
    Bostons- 68%
    Thanks to all for voting!!