STOCKHOLM — Rasmus Dahlin found a surprise at his locker after the morning skate Friday.
“I was shaking,” Dahlin said. “I felt like a child. Yeah, that was cool.”
The Buffalo Sabres defenseman had never met the Hockey Hall of Famer, who won the Stanley Cup four times and the Norris Trophy seven times with the Detroit Red Wings from 1991-2012.
The 19-year-old will play an NHL game in his home country of Sweden for the first time when the Sabres play the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2019 NHL Global Series on Friday (2 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN1, NHL.TV).
Lidstrom will be on a rinkside set as an analyst for Viasat television in Sweden during the second game of the series Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN1, SUN, MSG-B, NHL.TV).
They made small talk, with Lidstrom asking Dahlin what he and the team had been doing during the trip. Afterward, Dahlin asked the 49-year-old for a photo in the hall outside the locker room.
How much did Dahlin look up to Lidstrom growing up?
“So much,” Dahlin said. “He’s the best of all time, so I don’t know. That’s the guy, I guess.”
Lidstrom has been watching Dahlin since 2016-17, when Dahlin debuted with Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League.
Dahlin had three points (one goal, two assists) in 26 games as a 16-year-old that season, then 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 41 games for Frolunda the following season before the Sabres selected him No. 1 in the 2018 NHL Draft.
He had 44 points (nine goals, 35 assists) in 82 games for Buffalo last season and was a finalist for the Calder Trophy, and has 11 points (one goal, 10 assists) in 15 games this season.
“As a 17-year-old, he looked poised, mature,” Lidstrom said. “He looked hungry. He was willing to get up in the play and played with lots of enthusiasm. That what you saw, and that’s what you see in today’s game as well. And he’s still only 19 years old, so he’s still a young player.
“I’m sure he’s super excited to first of all be here and be here with his teammates, because when you’re playing in North America, it seems like you’re far away from home. You know people are watching on TV or following you online, but now you’re actually here. Now they can watch you live. He mentioned he had 30-some tickets. He’s got family and friends coming in to watch him play.”
Dahlin has dealt with things Lidstrom didn’t. The Red Wings selected him in the third round (No. 53) of the 1989 NHL Draft. He didn’t play in the NHL until he was 21. He wasn’t compared to a seven-time Norris winner, either.
Lidstrom was a Calder finalist, but remember: It took him 10 seasons to win the Norris for the first time.
“I wasn’t looked upon being a superstar or being a franchise player when I came in,” Lidstrom said. “I came in with (Vladimir) Konstantinov, two young defensemen, just kind of looking at rebuilding with the Wings. They had some openings from older defensemen that they let go, and we had a chance to come in and play. Different situation for me, for sure.
“It’s different times now, too, with everything in social media and the coverage. People know who you are. It wasn’t like that at all when I came in in the early ’90s.”
What does Lidstrom think of players like Dahlin being compared to him?
“People are looking at me as one of the strong, good defensemen coming out of Sweden, so I feel proud of being mentioned like that too,” Lidstrom said.
That’s an understatement, of course. But maybe understatement is underused. Any comparison to Lidstrom is a lot on Dahlin’s shoulders.
“It is,” Lidstrom said. “I’ve had the fortune to play a lot of years. I’ve had a lot of success both with the Wings and individual. He’s still too young to put with that kind of pressure, I think.
“He still has to learn to play the 200-foot game, as they say. You have to be strong defensively if you want to get matched up against the other teams’ top lines. So it takes time. It’s not something you can just get thrown into and expect to come out on top all the time.
“But from what I’ve seen, he’s been adapting so quickly to playing at the next level. He showed that when he came three years ago when he played for Frolunda in the highest league in Sweden, and I think he showed it last year too stepping into in the NHL with the big hype, and I think he responded real well.
“So that’s one impressive thing with Rasmus, is that he’s been able to adapt so quickly to being in new environments.”
Dahlin will have to adjust to this one now. He said he will try to treat it like another game. But that will be difficult, especially with the likes of Lidstrom in the building.
“I’m just trying to focus on the game,” Dahlin said, “because otherwise I can’t play.”