There was every reason to expect Jonathan Dahlen in San Jose next year.
Dahlen, after all, dominated HockeyAllsvenskan this season, dropping 77 points in just 51 games for Timra IK. The San Jose Sharks had every intention of bringing Dahlen over to make his NHL debut this year.
And looking ahead to next season, there will probably be no shortage of jobs in San Jose, if we’re being honest about the Sharks’ projected forward depth.
Instead, in late May, Dahlen re-signed with Timra.
That Dahlen chose to stay in Sweden wasn’t especially confounding, considering the uncertainty with the NHL and AHL’s schedule next year. Timra is still scheduled to begin its training camp for the 2020-21 season in August.
But what was confounding was Dahlen’s decision to remain in Sweden’s second-division hockey league, when the SHL was beckoning. Dahlen was an unrestricted free agent in Sweden this spring, coveted by all 14 SHL teams.
San Jose Hockey Now asked Hockeysverige’s Uffe Bodin to shed some light on Jonathan Dahlen’s decision to re-join Timra, why Carl Soderberg is a model for Dahlen to follow, and whether or not Dahlen is really ready for the NHL.
Sheng Peng: Why not San Jose? Why not another team in the SHL? How did Jonathan Dahlen end up back in Timra and second division, of all places?
Uffe Bodin: Jonathan Dahlén’s last tenure in North America was a personal nightmare for him. He had a really rough time on a personal level and it has taken him some time and effort to feel good about hockey again.
He was in a good space last season with Timra and that team has a very special place in his heart. His biggest dream at the moment is to help the team advance to the SHL like he did in 2018.
He had offers from pretty much every team in the SHL, but decided he wanted to stay and give it another shot with Timra, especially since the team didn’t get the chance to follow through on a good season due to the coronavirus last year.
From the Sharks’ viewpoint, I can imagine that the fact that they don’t know when the AHL season is going to start was a factor in all of this. With this solution, he presumably gets to play competitive hockey from September and forward. Who knows when he would have gotten the chance to play again if he decided to go back to North America?
SP: The Allsvenskan season could end as early as March. So the plus in Dahlen returning to Sweden this year is that conceivably, with the NHL starting their 2020-21 season in December, that he could be joining the Sharks closer to mid-season. Do you think this might have factored in Dahlen’s decision to play in Sweden this year?
UB: Honestly, no, I just think that’s a bonus. It seems like he was set on this solution pretty early in the process, long before the NHL decided this was the way things were going to shape up.
SP: You’ve cited Carl Soderberg as a player who held himself back in Allsvenskan for a couple years and still found NHL success. Can you explain Soderberg’s circumstances and why he held himself back?
UB: So Carl Soderberg suffered a horrible eye injury back in 2007. It took him a long time to rebound from that and feel good about his game again. He decided to stay with his hometown team Malmo for a few more years than he probably needed to hockey-wise. But it helped him get back to where he wanted to be as a human and as a player, and I really think that set the stage for the success he has had during the latter part of his career.
Jonathan Dahlén doesn’t have an injury like that to point to, but I think he had some healing to do after the season he spent in North America and the rough times he experienced in Utica while being a part of Vancouver Canucks’ organization.
SP: Where is Jonathan Dahlen’s game at, what does he need to work on? Do you think he could step into the NHL right now and be a regular contributor?
UB: He thinks the game and has pace at a level that would take him close to being an NHL player. 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.
Although being a dominant player in the league last season, he still looked like a boy physically. He needs to continue to mature physically in order to take the next step. I don’t have a doubt he has the talent it takes to play in the NHL in a year or two, but he needs to be physically ready too.
SP: InStat data suggests that Dahlen does not initiate contact — just 2 hits in 52 games — and he’s a bit of a turnover machine — 6.24 Giveaways to 2.83 Takeaways per game — are those fair assessments? Also, does a 49% challenge percentage speak to a need to improve at one-on-one battles?
UB: I would say that it’s a pretty fair assumption, but you have to take into account that Swedish hockey isn’t overly physical compared to the North American game. You also have to take into account that he was a very dominant player in this league last season and pretty much got away with anything because of that.
If there’s one thing that could be concerning about him spending one more year in that league, it might be that it could cause him to create some bad habits just because he’s so dominant that he gets away with turnovers and poor decision-making. My hope is that he gets the chance to don the Swedish national jersey some time during the season so he can be tested against international competition. I think that would be a good test for him and also a way to see where he stands.
SP: In short, Dahlen appears to be a player who won’t succeed in the NHL if he isn’t producing points — does that seem accurate?
UB: At this point in his career, yes, but I still think there’s plenty of time for him to develop as a player and find another niche if the goals and the points don’t come for him at the next level. Smart players can adapt and it will be up to him to prove that he is one of those players if that scenario occurs.
When Will Dahlén & Blichfield Be Back in San Jose?
Erik and JD are joined by Sheng Peng to check in on some of the San Jose Sharks prospects who are being loaned out. We start with Jonathan Dahlén (5:00), how he is lighting up the Allsvenskan and when he might be joining the Sharks. We look at Joachim Blichfield being loaned to a hockey league with the coolest name in the world (14:00). Sheng also lets us know when we might actually see NHL and AHL games and what those seasons might look like (19:00). Check out the podcast on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Keep up with all things San Jose Sharks here:
Jonathan Dahlen: “I was a little small before.”
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.