It’s easy to forget that at 24 years old, Jonathan Dahlen has already been part of two separate NHL trades.
The first especially slips the mind, as it came a mere eight months after the Ottawa Senators initially drafted the winger in the second round (42 overall) of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Playing abroad with Timra’s men’s team in Sweden’s second-tier league — where he put up 44 points in 45 regular-season games — Dahlen’s rights were sent to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for veteran winger Alexandre Burrows.
The following summer, the Canucks drafted Dahlen’s Timra linemate, Elias Pettersson, at fifth overall. The front office was hopeful for how the pair would develop chemistry together abroad, and if that would carry through the Canucks’ organization. Dahlen dealt with a bout of mononucleosis in August 2017, missing out on the Canucks’ camp, and by 2018, Petterson was an NHL mainstay, and Dahlen was assigned to their AHL team, the Utica Comets.
It’s difficult to talk about Dahlen’s development without criticizing the Comets, but he is simply part of a trend from the organization, not a singular case of failure. Nevertheless, that year with Utica set him backwards, and he was ultimately traded again, this time to the San Jose Sharks, in exchange for third-round selection Linus Karlsson. The now 22-year-old Swedish center has yet to play in North America, though he posted 46 points (26 goals, 20 assist) through 52 games last year in his rookie SHL season.
Dahlen joined the San Jose Barracuda briefly after the trade, but elected to return to Sweden the following year and re-evaluate his career.
Through no fault of his own, it was a bad time to take a presumed step backward, as the following season would be cut short by the coronavirus pandemic. Then again — aside from Dahlen getting diagnosed with the disease more than once — the timing worked in his favor, allowing him to return to Timra in the second-tier HockeyAllsvenskan for the next two seasons, eventually becoming the team’s captain and racking up 148 points (61 goals, 87 assists) in 96 games.
Dahlen racked up awards, too. He was the league’s MVP and Forward of the Year both seasons, as well as earning seven total scoring titles. He was a force, bringing Timra back up into the top-tier SHL in 2021.
He had gone back to Sweden to reevaluate his career and the time had come to make a decision. The Sharks still retained his rights, maintaining involvement in his development abroad and last summer, Dahlen returned to North America on a one-year, $750,000 contract.
In the sixth season after being drafted, and two trades later, Dahlen made his NHL debut with the Sharks. In 61 games, Dahlen scored 22 points (12 goals, 11 assists), 10th overall on the team in scoring. He got off to a hot start, but like many rookies, struggled mid-season, especially as the team itself had difficulties finding chemistry and consistency.
What We Like
When looking at one-ice results, it’s difficult to take much away on an individual level, because everyone on the Sharks last year was, on the whole, quite bad, with the exception of Timo Meier — the only player over 50 percent (50.42) in shares of unblocked shots and attempts (Corsi For percentage, or CF%) at score- and venue-adjusted 5-on-5 (all stats are per Natural Stat Trick).
On a bad team, Dahlen was mostly average.
At 5-on-5, Dahlen ranked seventh in shots per 60 minutes with 6.64, between Tomas Hertl (7.11) and Kevin Labanc. (6.38). His shooting percentage of 10.26 ranked sixth, while only seven total players with at least 100 minutes of ice time were shooting over 10 percent. When it came to high-danger chances at 5-on-5, Dahlen’s 5.19 per 60 minutes ranked second only to Meier (5.43). He took just six minor penalties last season, while drawing five.
On the power play, however, Dahlen is a wizard. His point totals (3 goals, 4 assists) are middling, but the percentage of goals for the Sharks while Dahlen was on the ice that he earned a point on, or Individual Point Percentage, is 70 percent, second among players with more than one point on the power play (Meier again ranks first, with 78.26).
Building on that rookie season, Dahlen will almost certainly continue to improve, especially if the team around him improves. The problem isn’t that Dahlen is a middle-of-the-pack guy, it’s that the players surrounding him there are supposed to be the leaders.
At his price point especially, it’s hard to complain about his impact. The delay in his development has worked to the Sharks’ favor in that regard; he may hit his peak later than anticipated and as a pending restricted free agent, he’ll be signed to a very team-friendly deal should that happen.
Areas of Improvement
A rookie NHL season is no easy feat, especially for a guy who can’t seem to stop catching COVID. His 61 games last season are the most he’s played in a single season and players often have a hard time adjusting not only to the pace of the NHL game, but the density of the schedule. Dahlen is no exception. His performance peaked around December, and started to plateau around mid-January. Coming back in the fall, consistency is going to become crucial to make his case to stay in the line-up.
Much of that lack in consistency shows through in his defensive play. There’s bad puck luck and bad finishing by his linemates to account for some of his offensive inconsistency — as well as general fatigue — but play away from the puck is where Dahlen struggles to provide consistent coverage night in and night out.
Dahlen’s first goal here isn’t so much skill as it it being in the right place at the right time — which, in a league with as much random variance as the NHL, certainly has value — but his second goal is a beauty. That connection between Dahlen and Meier early last season was something magical. Man, how can you not have hope about the future watching that play?