Jonathan Dahlen is once again proving that he belongs at another level.
If you need more proof than Dahlen’s Allsvenskan-leading 16 points in seven contests so far this season — on the heels of his league-leading 77 points last year — consider Team Sweden selecting the 2016 second-round pick for next month’s Karjala Cup.
Dahlen is the only player from Sweden’s second-division league on this talented squad, mostly comprised of SHL players who are NHL draft picks.
The Karjala Cup, by the way, is an annual international tournament that will take place in Finland this year from November 5-8. Finland, Russia, and the Czech Republic are also participating.
As of now, Russia is the only other country that has announced their roster: Fellow San Jose Sharks prospects Artemi Knyazev and Yegor Spiridonov will skate for Russia.
Back to Dahlen: The ultimate question is whether or not he can take his game to the NHL level. It’s my belief that once the Allsvenskan season ends, Dahlen will join the San Jose Sharks.
Of course, going from Swedish second-division to the NHL is a big ask.
Sharks director of scouting Doug Wilson Jr. told me in February: “[Dahlen] still has a lot of development to go, in regards to an NHL body, to get through 82 games.”
A handful of months later, Swedish hockey journalist Uffe Bodin echoed Wilson Jr., telling San Jose Hockey Now: “What he still lacks is the physical strength and conditioning to play at the highest level. It will take him a lot of hard work and competitiveness to reach that level of physique to allow him to be an NHL player.”
What’s changed now?
Per Bodin, these are also the areas where Dahlen has improved most recently. Bodin interviewed Dahlen for Hockeysverige a couple days ago and was kind enough to translate some key passages for SJHN.
Summer, apparently, was no vacation for the NHL prospect.
“We have a great fitness coach in Timrå, Sandra (Nordenberg), who has been very tough with us all summer long. You may get a little angry at her sometimes because she pushes you so hard, but she does it for a reason and we’ve got good results from it,” Dahlen told Hockeysverige. “We have had a fantastic summer training and I feel very strong. It has been useful.”
The 5-foot-11 winger also admitted: “I was a little small before…Now I feel stronger and more all-round fit.”
This jibes with what San Jose Hockey Now was told last month about Dahlen’s conditioning: “A source tells me that Jonathan himself feels ready to challenge for a full-time NHL spot soon — which suggests to me that his training this past summer has gone well and he’s made a leap physically.”
Besides his strength and conditioning, a scout also told SJHN that the winger needed to pick up his quickness or “explosion” to keep up with the best league in the world.
So when exactly will we see Dahlen’s gains on North American ice?
The NHL is still targeting a January 1st start date for the 2020-21 season. There’s a good chance, frankly, that they’ll have kick off later — for example, the AHL announced February 5th as their start date today.
So if the Allsvenskan season ends in April as scheduled — a big if in its own right — Dahlen could prove to be a compelling early to mid-season addition to the San Jose Sharks.