The 18-year old second round pick in the 2020 Entry Draft may have changed how Buffalo GM Gidlow sees his defensive unit heading into the season.
As far-fetched as it may have seemed when Buffalo selected defenseman William Wallinder in the second round of the 2020 BEARD Hockey Entry Draft, it appears there is at least an outside chance the Swedish rearguard could end up extending his stay in western New York beyond the preseason.
That's the word from GM Thomas Gidlow, who has raved about the 18-year old after an impressive camp and his first preseason action.
"Solid as a rock and doesn't look out of place," said Gidlow after the club's 5-2 loss to Montreal on Saturday night. "What he and the penalty killing units did tonight against pretty much an NHL-set team was quite impressive to see."
Though it was just a single game, Wallinder led all Sabres in ice time (22:35) and was credited with two hits and a takeaway. He was partnered with fellow Swede Theodor Lennstrom during 5-on-5 play and was part of the PK unit that held the Canadiens scoreless on four power plays.
"Just played as coach told us all along," said Wallinder. "We don't take any shifts off. We play hard and just give it 100%."
When asked about the potential of continuing on in Buffalo after the preseason, Wallinder was poised, but not elaborate.
"If I can help the team now, obviously I want to be here."
The things that bring Wallinder into this consideration go beyond the little he's been seen by others outside of the team's camp. The intangibles have been apparent to the coaching staff and management since he arrived. But now, he'll be put through some paces that may have been saved for future camps or preseasons.
"You get all the stuff you can on a player when you're drafting him, but you don't truly know what you have until he's in camp and you're working him out," said Sabres head coach Jim Montgomery. "So wherever he may have been on the depth chart before camp, he's been steadily moving up. And we'll see where he ends up after preseason."
Gidlow was a bit more blunt in his assessment - which carries more weight after the recent trade that saw Ryan Lindgren moved out, leaving the Sabres (theoretically) with six pro defensemen.
"I think he's definitely in the mix," stated Gidlow. "If he proves he can play, he will get every opportunity. We've got a spot open right now and we're not limiting it to specific players. Whoever earns that spot is going to be there on opening night."
While it's exceedingly rare to see an 18-year old NHL defenseman, it has happened a few times over the past decade. Aaron Ekblad (12 goals) and Rasmus Dahlin (44 points) were the top of the mountain in this category, but Jakob Chychrun and Noah Hanifin also played full seasons starting out as 18-year old's in the recent past.
Ekblad and Dahlin were both picked first overall in their respective draft class, though. Wallinder, should he make the opening night roster, would be the first 18-year old defenseman selected outside the first round to accomplish this feat since 1998 (Jonathan Girard).
Wallinder is expected to play alongside Jaccob Slavin on Buffalo's top defensive pairing in tonight's tilt against the Maple Leafs in Toronto. He very well may lead the team in ice time again.
"We're going to put him through the paces along with others and see who emerges," said Montgomery. "William is a smart, really hard-working kid."
"We'll see what happens."