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Dahlin in thick of Calder race

A big second-half performance could push the defenseman to win the award

We’ve just hit the halfway mark of 42 games and Rasmus Dahlin is putting up a rookie campaign that may warrant him some hardware in June.

Dahlin is one of the favorites for the Calder Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL’s top rookie.

This would not strike anyone as a surprise prior to this season, or even back in July when he was drafted first overall. He, along with his teammate Casey Mittelstadt, were preseason shoo-ins for the award.

Expectations for Mittelstadt’s performance were quickly tempered, as his offensive production hasn’t been quite up to snuff where many projected it to be. Despite this, he’s actually developed quite nicely throughout the early portions of this season, scoring some flashy goals and honing in on his defensive game.

An early bid in the Calder race for Dahlin was stifled as well. Obviously being 18 years old, playing on defense, and being asked to subsume a huge role on an emerging team is a tall order.

However, the biggest reason why Dahlin is not a slam dunk for the Calder Trophy lies in fellow countryman and rising star Elias Pettersson.

The 20-year-old Swede stormed onto the scene opening night of this season with a highlight-reel goal and an assist to boot, leading his Vancouver Canucks to a 5-2 victory over their division rival Calgary Flames.

And he hasn’t looked back since. Pettersson had an October to remember, compiling seven goals and 10 points, earning himself rookie of the month. He did all this despite missing six games due to a concussion.

He currently leads his team in scoring and is atop the rookie-scoring lead by a large margin. Because of this, he’s automatically a favorite in Calder contention.

Many pundits were even calling the Calder race back in October and rightly so after the month Pettersson had. Dahlin, however, had a November that would be both unforgettable for him and the city of Buffalo.

He was an integral part of the infamous ‘streak’ – a span of games in November where the Sabres won 10 straight, jettisoning themselves in the standings amongst the league’s elite.

Dahlin’s 10-point (1 goal, 9 assists) month earned him some well-deserved attention and the rookie of the month honors as well.

The Sabres success continued and so did Dahlin’s, but not without mistakes. The game after the Wild in Pittsburgh was a classic example. He had the puck on his stick for large portions of the game, dazzling in the offensive zone garnering some ‘oohs and aahs’.

Despite the comeback win for the Sabres, his defensive game had some lapses. In other games, his mistakes led to turnovers and the puck in the back of the Sabres’ net. This goal from the Kings is an unfortunate example.

Dahlin, however, never seems to get rattled or unfocused showcasing extreme composure for an 18-year-old. His maturity has led to more confidence and has translated to a spike in offensive production.

With 20 points (4 goals, 16 assists), that puts him in good company with other rookies, who are mostly forwards. He also reached the 20-point plateau in historic fashion as well. Only three other defensemen have reached that mark quicker in NHL history. Names like Phil Housley, Ray Bourque, and Aaron Ekblad are good company.

Winning the Calder as a defenseman is tough, but there is some precedent for it. Former first-overall pick,  Ekblad won it back in the 2014-15 season. The last defenseman before him to win it was former Sabre Tyler Myers. Dahlin is on pace to reach, if not surpass Ekblad and Myers’ point totals.

Goals and assists are not the only factors in the Calder selection. Myers’ rookie season is a fine example. His ice time, games played, and plus-minus rating helped him beat out guys like Jimmy Howard and Matt Duchene.

A strong second half of the season will certainly make Dahlin’s push for the Calder more interesting. Pettersson’s case for the trophy is strong with 22 goals and 20 assists in 38 games, but he is missing some time with a slight MCL sprain.

Dahlin’s impact on the Sabres has been palpable, regardless if trophies are won at the end of the season.

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