When the list of pending RFAs who were not being tendered a qualifying offer came out shortly after the deadline for teams to make the offer passed, plenty of interesting names headlined the list, such as Sonny Milano, Haydn Fleury, Brendan Lemieux, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Dominik Kubalik, and Dylan Strome, just to name a few. Some of those players went on to sign relatively strong free agent contracts with other teams, Strome being the prime example; some returned to their teams at a cost more palatable to the organization, like Lemieux who signed for $1.35MM over one year, less than the $1.65MM qualifying offer he was due; and some players have yet to find a home.
One of those players yet to find a home is forward Jonathan Dahlen, who was non-tendered by the San Jose Sharks. While there are some non-tendered players for whom it be clear why they haven’t found a home for 2021-22, with Dahlen, it may be a bit puzzling. At 24, Dahlen just wrapped up his rookie season in the NHL, where he scored 12 goals to go with 10 assists in 61 NHL contests. Dahlen’s rookie season wasn’t the most impressive in history, or even this season, however it did represent a capable and overall solid season from a player who has taken some time to develop and adjust to the North American game.
A second-round pick of the Ottawa Senators in 2016, Dahlen was traded twice before he ever had the chance to make his NHL debut. Less than a year after he was drafted, Ottawa moved him to the Vancouver Canucks in the deal that sent Alexandre Burrows to the Senators. Almost two years to the day later, Vancouver dealt him to San Jose for Linus Karlsson. Prior to his North American debut, Dahlen established himself as a reliable scoring threat in Sweden, with 29 points in 51 games as an 18-year-old for Timra in Sweden’s second-highest league in his draft year. The forward broke out and built on his performance with 44 points in 45 games and 44 points in 44 games over each of the next two seasons.
With the Swedish success bolstering his development, Dahlen came to North America, playing his first full season in 2018-19, where he had 33 points in 57 games split between the Utica Comets and San Jose Barracuda in the AHL. Although it was far from a poor performance, it wasn’t the step forward imagined for Dahlen, who would return to Sweden and Timra for another season. Here, Dahlen became a star, putting up a whopping 36 goals and 41 assists in a mere 51 games, following that up with 25 goals and 46 assists in 45 games the year after.
Powered by his stardom with Timra, Dahlen returned to North America for the 2021-22 season and much like his first go of it, it was good, but it just wasn’t the next step of repeating the Swedish performance over here. His 22 points ranked him 11th among all NHL rookies, his average time-on-ice also ranking 11th among rookies who had at least 40 games played. More concerning, however, was a -25 rating which was lower than his entire point total and came with a relatively good 52.0 CF%, all of which put together raises some concerns about Dahlen’s game. Considering the flat-out elite performances he’s had in Sweden, it’s easy to understand why Dahlen’s NHL debut was underwhelming, if not disappointing. But, that said, if he is in fact interested in staying in the NHL, it’s interesting to see that he remains unsigned roughly a month after he hit the market.
2021-22/Career: 61 GP, 12 G, 10 A, 22 pts, -25 rating, 12 PIMs, 105 shots, 52.0 CF%, 13:48 ATOI
Given some of Dahlen’s struggles, most highlighted by the -25 rating, many teams could be wary about giving opportunities to a player that may struggle this much in his own zone, as compared to the offense he does bring. On the other hand, for some teams that risk may be worth taking if they view Dahlen’s 22 points as something that is less than his capability in the NHL and something that their organization can help to grow.
Regardless of whether a team can develop his game or not, Dahlen could be a target for an older team with less payroll flexibility that’s looking to add a spark. Unlike many of the players profiled in this series, Dahlen is rather young, still just 24 for another four months and could, even as a depth player, add some energy when he is on the ice that players perhaps 10 years his senior can’t physically bring anymore.
Another option for Dahlen, one that may be fairly enticing at this point, would be to return to Sweden, or another European league. History shows that Dahlen can handle the North American game and produce when he’s on the ice, but in Sweden’s second league, he becomes and MVP caliber star. For a player like Dahlen, the opportunity to be at the forefront of a league close to home, playing first line minutes, could be an extremely attractive opportunity, especially if the alternative is a more limited role far from home, perhaps not even in the NHL.
The forward made $750K last year as a rookie and with that figure being the minimum salary in the NHL for 2022-23, the Sharks were seemingly unwilling to bring back Dahlen even at that number. If Dahlen is to secure a contract for next season, the most likely opportunity will be on a two-way deal or a PTO, and the result of the PTO may still be a two-way deal. This reality still wouldn’t be a bad thing, a two-way deal possibly affording him chances to play in the NHL next year, and given his age and former prospect status, teams would still give close consideration to his progress and skillset looking for a bargain.