Is Jonathan Dahlen the Canucks’ future first line centre?

Alex Burrows trade brings a much-needed injection of skill into prospect pool

Pass it to Bulis

Seeing Alex Burrows get traded is, on the one hand, bitterly sad. He was a player that I truly wish could have been a lifelong Canuck. Hard as it may be to understand for hockey fans outside the lower mainland, Burrows is one of the most likeable players in Canucks history.

On the other hand, seeing Burrows get traded was fantastic. It’s a sign that, perhaps, the Canucks management learned something from last year’s debacle at the trade deadline and is truly determined to get good value for their assets. In return for Burrows, the Canucks are getting a very good prospect out of the Ottawa Senators organization, a player that has been excelling while playing against men in Sweden’s second-tier league, the Allsvenskan.

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The trade immediately brought to mind the last time an aging veteran was traded for a top prospect out of the Allsvenskan: Martin Erat for Filip Forsberg.

Forsberg has since exploded onto the scene in the NHL, quickly establishing himself as one of the league’s best young players. He’s a bonafide first-line forward who scored 33 goals last season and is on-pace for another 30+ goal season this season. And Jonathan Dahlen outscored him at the same age in the Allsvenskan.

You see the comparisons to a guy like Forsberg and his position listed at centre on Hockey DB and it’s pretty easy to get excited and think that the Canucks have found their future replacement for Henrik Sedin, the young centre who will eventually provide a one-two punch down the middle with Bo Horvat.

Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen. Dahlen hasn’t played centre for at least two seasons, at least at the highest levels he’s played. He lined up at left wing for Sweden at the World Junior Championships and has been doing the same for Timra IK in the Allsvenskan.

So Betteridge’s Law of Headlines still holds true: no, Dahlen won’t be the Canucks future first line centre. But Dahlen is still a very good prospect that has the potential to be a top-six left winger, which is a position of weakness among Canucks prospects.

In his draft year, Dahlen led his Allsvenskan team in scoring with 15 goals and 29 points in 51 games. This season, Dahlen has shown remarkable progression, jumping up to 24 goals and 42 points in 44 games in the Allsvenskan so far. That once again leads his team in goals and points and places him sixth in the Allsvenskan in scoring and third in points per game.

Now the Allsvenskan isn’t the Swedish Hockey League (it’s a Swedish hockey league), but it’s still unusual for an 18-year-old to lead his team in scoring and for a 19-year-old to sit near the top of the league in points.

In fact, his season compares favourably to some of the best seasons ever by a player under 20 in the Allsvenskan.

Dahlen has already tied the record for most goals by a player under 20 in the Allsvenskan, tying Par Albrandt, whose 5’7” stature likely precluded any chance of a career in North America. Names of note to NHL fans: Patrik Berglund and Henrik Zetterberg.

His highlight reel from the 2015-16 season shows a consummate goalscorer, putting the puck in the net in multiple ways: slap shots, snap shots, one-timers, driving the net, wraparounds, shoveling in rebounds, tips, and tap-ins. It also showcases some impressive vision, sublime hands, and better-than-advertised skating.

He followed up his strong regular season with 6 goals in five postseason games, finishing second in postseason goalscoring. The guy who finished first played 9 more games than Dahlen.

A couple of those goals came on stunning individual efforts; the first and last goal in the highlight reel below should keep you buzzing with excitement all summer long. And remember, these are all from last season.

This season he’s been even better. His highlights from this current season should give you many more reasons to be excited about Dahlen. His shot is harder, his release is quicker, and his hands are softer.

But it’s his performance in international competition that may have caught more of Jim Benning’s attention, as we’ve seen him put a lot of weight on international performance in the past.

Dahlen scored five goals in seven games for Sweden at the 2017 World Junior Championships and added an assist for six points, good for fifth on the team in scoring.

That tied him for second on Sweden in goal scoring with Joel Eriksson Ek behind Alexander Nylander, two highly-touted first-round picks. Dahlen didn’t play on their line; he was on the second line with fellow second-round picks Rasmus Asplund and Carl Grundstrom. He did, however, play on the top power play unit, where he scored two of his goals.

Dahlen had a hattrick against the Czech Republic in Sweden’s final game of the preliminary round. You can see his goals at 1:00, 1:57, and 2:30 in the game highlights below (and ignore Canucks prospect Lukas Jasek’s own goal at 1:24). Again, all three goals are scored in very different ways.

It’s not just that Dahlen scored goals; he absolutely peppered the net with shots, finishing with 34 in the tournament, an average of 4.86 per game. That was enough to lead the entire tournament in shots on goal.

He fires a ton of shots in the Allsvenskan as well; he’s second in the league in shots on goal with 174, an average of 3.95 per game. Dahlen is a guy who consistently gets the puck to the net and clearly has the finishing ability to make the most of many of the chances he creates.

It’s also noteworthy that the vast majority of his scoring has come at even-strength in the Allsvenskan this year. He has just 5 goals and 8 points on the power play.

What strikes me the most, however, is that even with all of his skill and his great shot, Dahlen is not a perimeter player in the slightest. He seems to love driving to the front of the net, mixing it up in traffic, and finishing off ugly goals on rebounds and scrums in front. He’s not a big guy at 5’11”, 180 lbs, but he doesn’t seem to shy away from getting to the dirty areas.

Dahlen seems determined to score goals not just in the Allsvenskan or at the World Juniors, but in the NHL. According to Rick Dhaliwal at News 1130 Sports, Dahlen wakes up every morning to watch NHL highlights so he can pattern his game around how NHL players score goals.

Will Dahlen follow in the footsteps of Filip Forsberg? That's setting the bar too high, but there's still plenty of reasons to be excited about the newest addition to the Canucks' system.

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