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Sabres locker room cleanout: 3 stars of the season

Don Granato was a catalyst for change in the Buffalo Sabres organization in his first full season as head coach.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres wrapped up locker room cleanout on Sunday. 2 On Your Side's Julianne Pelusi and NHL Insider Paul Hamilton picked their three stars of the season after the team finished 32-39-11.

THIRD STAR: CENTER TAGE THOMPSON

At Sunday's cleanout, Tage Thompson said he and head coach Don Granato discussed before the season that he could become an NHL star.

Granato didn't want to waste any time getting the 24-year-old to the top of his game.

"All right, let's make that happen now," Thompson recalled Granato saying.

Granato moved the 6-foot, 7-inch winger to center, and it worked. Thompson surpassed his then-career-high eight-goal season with 38 goals in the 2021-2022 season.

Credit: AP
Buffalo Sabres right wing Tage Thompson (72) looks on during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders on Saturday, April. 23, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)

Hamilton chalked his production up to Thompson being put in the right position.

"Don Granato envisioned that he would be able to do it because he can get to the middle of the ice, he doesn't get trapped along the wall, and it just made him a better hockey player," Hamilton said.

"Plus, he made himself a better hockey player," Hamilton added. "He shoots the puck quicker. He worked on it. He knew he had a good shot, but it had to get off quicker. He did it, and he became an elite goal-scorer, and I think the sky's the limit. I think he can do better than that as he moves along."

Julianne's note: The sky is the limit on the Ryan O'Reilly trade.

SECOND STAR: DEFENSEMAN RASMUS DAHLIN

Credit: AP
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (26) during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils Thursday, April 21, 2022, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

The Sabres defenseman had a 40-point season with a career-high 13 goals after getting off to a slow start.

Rasmus Dahlin was Buffalo's lone representative at the NHL All-Star Game in Las Vegas, and his season took off when he returned to his team.

Julianne and Hamilton agreed his late-season improvement took off enough to pass up Thompson on the list.

"Thompson would have been my No. 2 star back then," Hamilton said about the Sabres before the All-Star break.

"The growth that Dahlin has shown, it's just been amazing. It's just been night and day how well he's playing. It's every game. It's every shift. You don't see him have too many bad games or too many bad shifts anymore. He's the guy that's just making it roll."

Dahlin also landed an "A" on his chest for several games this season as an alternate captain, with Granato believing in his leadership.

“I kind of knew that I always had it, but I wasn’t really comfortable with it," Dahlin told Julianne at cleanout.

"I kind of knew I had it, but it took some time. But, you know, I’m not done yet ... but it’s a step in the right direction."

Julianne's note: Rasmus Dahlin has bought into Buffalo. He wore a Bills hat to Saturday's cleanout and has once told her, "Josh Allen, he's a player, eh?" Football guy.

FIRST STAR: HEAD COACH DON GRANATO

Credit: AP
Buffalo Sabres coach Don Granato smiles as he walks off the ice after the team's NHL hockey game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday, April 29, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)

The boost for Tage Thompson and Ramsus Dahlin was belief in their game.

Don Granato, in his first year as the Sabres head coach, provided the spark.

"The Nos. 2 and 3 stars aren't the Nos. 2 and 3 stars without him," Hamilton said. "He takes Thompson, realizes that a guy who's never played center in the NHL should be a center."

When Dahlin made mistakes or struggled early in the season, Granato went to bat for the 2018 first overall pick, consistently defending his play.

"Dahlin was listening like 'wow, my coach has my back,' and it was great. When he knew everybody had his back, he became Rasmus Dahlin and the guy that everybody's been waiting for," Hamilton said.

Julianne's note: Don Granato's blue-framed glasses have been her first star since the beginning of the season.

HAGS (have a great summer), everyone!

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