Top NHL draft prospect Dahlin draws a big crowd in Buffalo

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — For all the buzz Rasmus Dahlin has generated at just 18, the Swedish defenseman joked he had never encountered a mob scene such as the one before him on Friday.

There were as many as a dozen cameras and two dozen more reporters packed three- and four-deep surrounding Dahlin, seated on a stool at the NHL pre-draft scouting combine in Buffalo.

”Yeah, it’s pretty awesome actually,” Dahlin said, his blond hair offset by the jet-black suit he wore. ”It’s the first time so many cameras, I think. It’s fun. I love it.”

Dahlin had better become accustomed to it, because the lean, play-making and smooth-skating blue-liner should remain the focus of attention in the days leading up to the NHL draft being held in Dallas in three weeks. That’s when Dahlin is projected to be the first overall pick and join Mats Sundin as the only other Swedish-born player to go No. 1.

”If that happens, I would be so glad and proud,” Dahlin said, his eyes growing bigger at the mention of Sundin, who was selected No. 1 by the Quebec Nordiques in 1989.

At 6-foot-2 and 181 pounds, Dahlin is considered the most NHL-ready prospect in this year’s draft class for his all-around ability. He’s already drawing comparisons to other elite Swedish defensemen, such as former Detroit star and seven-time Norris Trophy-winner Nicklas Lidstrom and Ottawa captain and two-time Norris winner Erik Karlsson.

”All those characteristics they bring to the game, Dahlin has the same potential to bring those same characteristics,” NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr, told The Associated Press last week.

”It’s not fair to compare him to those players, but everything that made them successful National Hockey League players, this kid has it in his game,” Marr added. ”This here’s a player that could be a cornerstone to a franchise. And he’ll be a staple on their blue line for years and years to come.”

It’s not just one aspect of Dahlin’s game in which he excels, Marr said. It’s all of them.

Whether it’s hitting, scoring or defending, Marr said Dahlin has ”shown he can rise to the occasion or rise to perform whatever needs to be done for that situation.”

And the significance of Dahlin being in Buffalo for the combine wasn’t lost on anyone, given the Sabres own the top pick .

General manager Jason Botterill isn’t tipping his hand on whether he’ll select Dahlin, but coach Phil Housley has already been crowing about the youngster’s potential.

”I’ve been watching on YouTube, and boy it’s incredible,” Housley, a Hall of Fame defenseman, told The Buffalo News last month. ”He’s going to be a complete package in today’s NHL.”

Among the prospects ranked behind Dahlin by central scouting are Russian forward Andrei Svechnikov, who played in the Ontario Junior League last season, and Boston University’s Brady Tkachuk, the son of former NHL star Keith Tkachuk.

Dahlin is taking nothing for granted in saying, he’s not sure of the Sabres’ intentions.

”Of course, nothing is done,” he said. ”But yeah, if I’m coming here, I would love to be here. I heard they have great fans and everybody loves hockey here.”

Dahlin got his first taste of Buffalo’s hockey fans this past winter when he was part of Sweden’s silver medal-winning team at the World Junior hockey championships held in the city. Some five months later, the sting of a 3-1 loss to Canada in the championship game had mostly worn off.

”At that moment it was pretty bad,” said Dahlin, one of four Swedish players disciplined by the International Ice Hockey Federation for refusing to wear the silver medal during the postgame ceremony. ”But now, if I look back to the tournament, it was a great tournament. It was awesome to be here. We had a great team. We were so close.”

Dahlin was named the tournament’s top defenseman after finishing with six assists in seven games. At just 17, he then represented Sweden at the Winter Olympics, where he had an assist in two games. Add to that, Dahlin scored seven goals and 13 assists in 41 games with Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League, and earned junior player of the year honors.

”I went through so many great experiences. I’ve been to so many new places. I’ve grown as a guy, too,” Dahlin said attempting to put the year into perspective. ”I’m a teenager that’s growing every day just as a person.”

Once the session with reporters ended, Dahlin made his way to a bank of windows overlooking Buffalo’s newly redeveloped inner harbor, and soaked in the view.

More NHL hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

“Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

“Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

“Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

“Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

“We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

“They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.