At 22 years old, he’s poised to be a top-pair defenseman this season
There are a lot of Sabres fans who if you told them right after Mattias Samuelsson was drafted in the second round of the 2018 NHL Draft that he would be a top-pairing defenseman, they’d probably ask what in the world happened to make it so. Sometimes first impressions are the worst ones.
At 22 years old, Samuelsson checks in at No. 8 in the Top 25 Under 25 and the growth he’s made since his draft season out of the USNTDP then on to Western Michigan to Rochester and now Buffalo is immense. The worries back then were about how a player of his size would be able to keep up at the next level. He worked on his skating and he was leaned on to both be a top defender and a capable passer at WMU. Even though he spent just two seasons there, his improvement year-to-year was noticeable.
After passing the test of college hockey, the AHL was next in 2020. With the Americans, his physical play was a natural fit, but it was also his defensive knowhow that stood out. His gaps were minded, he used his reach to his advantage, and he was more than capable of clearing the crease for his goalies. There was also his dynamite first pass.
Coaches will rave about a big, physical defensemen that can also do some of the little things not always expected of them, especially when they’re the son of Kjell Samuelsson, a prototypical defensive defenseman in the 80s and 90s. But in Mattias’s case, the adept first pass to start a breakout that he began to develop in the NCAA got better and his play earned him a late season call to Buffalo where he had two assists in 12 games.
Last season, Samuelsson was poised to join the Sabres right out of training camp, but he was injured during the first game of the 2021 Prospects Challenge in September after he blocked a shot. The injury kept him out of action until November and he started in Rochester. After 15 points in 22 games, he was back in Buffalo and had 10 assists in 42 games for the Sabres and found a home on a pairing with Rasmus Dahlin that managed to play into both players’ strengths.
At 5-on-5, via Natural Stat Trick, they had a 54.6 CorsiFor percentage and a 51.3 expected goals for percentage. It’s a sort of small sample size (140 minutes) but with returns like that and the Sabres improved play when they were together, you can bet Samuelsson star will be on the rise teamed with Dahlin.
Samuelsson’s role as a defensive stopper and physical intimidator will make him more popular as time goes by, but even if you disagreed with the Sabres picking him then, he’ll make it really hard for you to dislike him now.