By Warren Kozireski —
In the 2018 National Hockey League Entry Draft, the Buffalo Sabres made defense a focus using five of their six selections on blueliners. The first was Rasmus Dahlin, who has been in a Sabres uniform since that fall.
The second, taken 32nd overall, is Mattias Samuelsson, via the U.S. National Team Development Program. After two seasons playing under former NHL head coach Andy Murray with his brother Lucas at Western Michigan University, the just-turned 21-year-old is now 14 games into his first professional season with Rochester.
“I think it’s been a good year so far by the way I’ve played,” Samuelsson said in early April. “You never know what to expect your first year; you just want to contribute to the team in any way you can and help them win games, and I think we’ve done that.
“I don’t think anything has been really surprising. I think when you move up levels you expect it to be faster, more plays made, stronger so it’s been pretty much what you would expect.
“You’re excited and nervous and all those things for your first NHL training camp and it keeps getting pushed back farther and farther, so it’s definitely been a weird first year of pro.”
Samuelsson moved away from home at 15 years old to attend Northwood Prep in New York for two seasons—the second year coached by former Amerks assistant and head coach Chadd Cassidy—before making the USNDTP in 2016-17.
A finalist for National Collegiate Hockey Conference Defensive Defenseman of the Year in his sophomore and final season with the Broncos, he scored seven goals with 26 points over 65 games combined.
And he has also shown an early knack of racking up points in the AHL standing tied for tenth in the league in assists and 13th in points among first-year defenseman with seven.
“Having a coach like him (Murray) coach me for two years (at Western Michigan) he is really all about details and stuff like that, so I think it has really helped me adjust to the pro game being exposed to what he was teaching at Western.”
Paired most nights with fellow draft pick Casey Fitzgerald, Samuelsson has played the left side as a left shot and putting the reach and leverage from his 6’4”, 223 lb. frame to good use. On offensive zone draws, the two flip sides of the ice.
Like Fitzgerald, whose father Tom is the General Manager of the New Jersey Devil and a former NHLer, Samuelsson also has hockey bloodlines. His father, Kjell had a long career on defense and has worked his way up in the Philadelphia Flyers organization as now Director of Player Development.
“It’s been really good so far playing with Fitzy; I feel we really gel together. We’re a little bit opposite and I feel it just works. We communicate a lot on the bench every shift talking about things and I think that really helps with our on-ice play.
“He’s obviously still learning and it’s my first year so I’m still learning a lot, so it helps that we’re doing it together and I think we’ve been playing pretty well lately.”
He also represented the country twice at the U-20 World Junior Championships winning a gold medal in Vancouver.
“Me and my family all felt that it was time for me to move and be challenged more and now that I’m playing pro, I feel like it was the right decision.”
And, speaking from a seasoned hockey-family perspective, he isn’t getting too far ahead of himself in terms of his transition to the professional ranks.
“I don’t say that I want this many points because, if you do that, it gets in your head and it’s all you think about. I’m a big believer that if you play the right way and work hard every shift and help the team win, that stuff will come naturally.”