When Medicine Hat Tigers head coach and general manager Shaun Clouston selected John Dahlstrom at 76th overall in the Canadian Hockey League import draft over the summer, he expected the big Swedish forward to play a key role in the team’s future.
He filled that admirably as one of the league’s top rookie forwards in the regular season, but ever since the start of the WHL playoffs, Dahlstrom has reached another level.
The team saw their playoff run end with a Game 7 overtime loss to the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the second round, but Dahlstrom was key in getting the Tigers that far.
“He’s been stellar for us, he’s been clutch,” said Clouston prior to Medicine Hat’s elimination. “I really like how hard he’s competing right now.
He’s driving hard with the puck, he’s battling in the corners and he’s finding a way to get it in the net.”
The 19-year-old power forward was snubbed by Team Sweden as the final cut on their 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship roster, but in the four months since, he’s been proving their decision wrong.
Dahlstrom closed out his first WHL regular season with 30 goals and 29 assists, spending almost the entire year on Medicine Hat’s second line with draft eligible Mason Shaw and Montreal Canadiens prospect Matt Bradley. While Dahlstrom admits it took him a little while to find his bearing in the smaller rink and faster pace of the Dub, he says skating with the same linemates all season long helped him rise to a level where he could truly excel.
“That really made it easy for me to come in and play my game,” said Dahlstrom. “I know where they are on the ice and how to play together.
That’s really helped me and I think it’s helped the team to have the depth.”
That depth was pivotal in Medicine Hat’s early playoff successes, with Dahlstrom’s line standing out as one of the more difficult to contain.
While he admits the playoffs brought about a much fiercer breed of hockey, it didn’t put a dent in Dahlstrom’s point production.
“It’s more physical out there. You have to always be prepared that someone’s going to hit you,” said Dahlstrom. “Even if you don’t have the puck you have to be ready all the time.”
Through 11 playoff games, the big Swede managed six goals and seven assists, with points in all but two contests, including a momentous overtime winner in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal against the Lethbridge Hurricanes, which kept the Tigers from falling into a 3-1 hole.
“He had an absolutely huge goal for us (in Game 4). That’s something that he’s been able to provide all year. He’s got a great shot and a great one-timer,” Shaw said of his linemate’s highlight reel goal from the slot to even the series at 2-2. “It’s been awesome being able to play with him for pretty much the whole season and watching him grow has been really awesome too.”
The Kungsbacka, Sweden product spent his younger years with Sweden’s national junior program and Frolunda Hockey Club’s under-18, under-20 and men’s teams, but opting to make the jump to North American ice has been paying off despite going overlooked at the world juniors.
“It’s a big difference,” said Dahlstrom. “Starting off the season, I was struggling a little bit, but after a couple games I started to feel like I had better timing on the ice.”
That level of progression has continued to climb, but Dahlstrom isn’t the only Tiger finding a new level to his game with the onset of the postseason.
While the Tigers lack a large quantity of player experience, they made up for it in tenacity. Players like undrafted defenceman Dylan MacPherson and overage captain Clayton Kirichenko kept their stout discipline on the back end while keeping opponents at bay with a higher degree of physicality. Up front, all four lines made contributions, from the intangibles to game-changing goals.
“That’s what happens when you get to this part of the season. Sometimes the results might not be there but everyone is playing hard and I can really tell,” said Shaw. “We’re not worried about who gets the credit for the goals or who gets those numbers put up, we all want the same result.”
Between the pipes, Medicine Hat boasts one of the most uplifting stories of the year in Michael Bullion. The 19-year-old Alaskan had his career resurrected at the trade deadline when he was traded from the Portland Winterhawks to the Gas City. In the three months since, Bullion has stolen the starting job from Calgary Flames prospect Nick Schneider with the strongest stretch of hockey in his three-season career.
Bullion finished the regular season with a 3.17 GAA and 0.897 save percentage and played all 11 playoff games for Medicine Hat, earning a 2.86 GAA and 0.889 save percentage.Back to Top
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