In any other season, Jonathan Dahlen would be the most exciting prospect heading to Canucks training camp.
We’re talking about the MVP of the Allsvenskan, who lead the league in points-per-game with 44 points in 44 games at the age of 20. He then dominated the playoffs with 8 goals and 14 points in 10 games to lead Timrå IK to promotion to the SHL.
Recent comparable players in the Allsvenskan include the likes of William Karlsson, who just scored 43 goals for the Vegas Golden Knights, and Filip Forsberg, the leading scorer for the Nashville Predators. Oh, and some guy named Henrik Zetterberg, who also led Timrå IK to promotion to the SHL with 14 points in 10 postseason games, though he was 19 at the time.
Imagine someone with that résumé coming to Canucks prospect camp and leading the Young Stars Classic in scoring, while showcasing edgework like Jeff Skinner, hands like Johnny Gaudreau, and a shot like Mike Cammalleri. Any other season, Canucks fans would be clamoring for Dahlen to be in the Canucks’ opening night lineup.
Alas, Dahlen isn’t the only Swedish MVP at Canucks camp this week. His friend and former linemate, Elias Pettersson, can also claim that title, albeit doing him one better by being the SHL MVP. That’s not to mention all the other accolades Pettersson racked up last season.
When Dahlen does get praise, it’s often in tandem with his more illustrious pal, as Canucks fans and some media ponder whether Pettersson and Dahlen could be the new Swedish duo https://www.vancourier.com/pass-it-to-bulis/are-elias-pettersson-and-jonathan-dahlen-twins-separated-at-birth-1.20764646 to lead the Canucks into the future in place of the Sedin twins. Always “Pettersson and Dahlen,” of course, and never “Dahlen and Pettersson.”
Dahlen does have one other title that Pettersson can’t claim as his own: Swedish Gentleman of the Year. https://twitter.com/ryanbiech/status/992045627704922112 The award, akin to the NHL’s Lady Byng Award, translates more literally as “Knight of the Rink,” which I believe means we should refer to him as Sir Jonathan Dahlen.
While Pettersson doesn’t have a knighthood, he has something else on Dahlen: a clear path into the Canucks lineup.
The Canucks have a distinct lack of depth at centre, both in the NHL and in their prospect pool. Considering the Canucks’ need for centres and Pettersson’s elite skill, it’s easy to see how Pettersson fits into the lineup. Even if he starts on the right wing, there’s a clear opening for Pettersson to make the team.
On the left wing, however, the Canucks have a logjam that will make it difficult for Jonathan Dahlen to make the team.
You can dispute the order of this chart or argue that some of these players can also play on the right wing, but that’s still a lot of players vying for just a few spots on the roster. Heading into camp, at least six left wingers are ahead of Dahlen on the depth chart, arguably seven, depending on how you feel about Brendan Gaunce.
Sven Baertschi seems like a lock for a top-six role and potentially a spot on the first power play unit. Loui Eriksson is the team’s highest paid player and one of top penalty killers. Antoine Roussel and Tim Schaller are free agent signings expected to play a large role as veteran mentors on a young team.
That’s four players that aren’t going anywhere. That leaves younger players like Nikolay Goldobin and Brendan Leipsic, both of whom will be looking to make their case as scoring wingers for the first or second line. If Dahlen wants to make the team, it’s likely that one or both of Goldobin and Leipsic would end up getting cut.
That’s where waiver eligibility enters into the picture. Goldobin and Leipsic are both eligible for waivers this season, which means they would have to go on waivers in order to be sent down to the AHL. Both seem like solid candidates to get claimed if they did get waived, thanks to excellent AHL résumés and flashes of greatness in the NHL.
As a rookie, Dahlen isn’t eligible for waivers, so can be sent down to the AHL freely. That, more than his skill and performance at training camp, could determine where he starts his season. Even if he outplays most of the other left wingers on the roster, it likely won't make a difference. Unless the Canucks want to chance losing a talented young player on waivers before he’s even had a chance to prove himself this season, Dahlen will probably be on the Utica Comets once October comes.
And that’s okay.
While it would be great to see Dahlen in the NHL right away, there’s little harm in him starting in the AHL. It would give him a chance to get used to the smaller ice surface in North America, as well as an opportunity to play big minutes on the Comets’ top line, instead of more limited, sheltered minutes with the Canucks.
Filip Forsberg played a full season in the AHL, albeit at a younger age, and it didn’t hurt his development. William Karlsson didn’t make the NHL full time until he was 22, playing mostly in the AHL at 21. While Henrik Zetterberg never played in the AHL, he didn’t make the jump to the NHL until he was 22.
So, if the 20-year-old Dahlen isn’t on the Canucks opening night lineup, don’t fret too much. It shouldn’t take long for Dahlen to dominate in the AHL and make it impossible for the Canucks to keep him in Utica.