The Buffalo Sabres haven’t had all that much success in the final round of the draft since the NHL moved to a seven-round format nearly 15 years ago. Granted, few teams have, but since 2005, Brady Austin, he of zero points in five big-league games, was the lone Sabres seventh rounder to skate in an NHL game prior to last season. And then came Victor Olofsson.
Olofsson, 24, has been a revelation of sorts early in the campaign. A standout in the AHL last season who earned a six-game stint with the Sabres last season, Olofsson shone in training camp and posted a three-goal pre-season en route to earning himself a spot not only on the Buffalo roster to start the season, but a chance to skate on the Sabres’ top line alongside Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. And Olofsson, who was selected 181st overall in 2014, has made the most of his early opportunity. In two games this young season, he’s chipped in two goals and three points, which brings his NHL total to an impressive four goals and seven points in eight games.
It’s a small sample size, yes, but his early success also correlates with his recent, pre-NHL production. He’s only two seasons removed from a Swedish League-leading 27-goal season, and it was just last season that Olofsson netted 30 goals as an AHL rookie, the second-most among all AHL freshmen. And using Dobber Prospect’s PNHLe projection, which projects potential NHL statistics using scoring data from past performances in other leagues, it’s not unrealistic to suggest Olofsson can keep this up. His output outside the NHL indicated he had 35- to 40-goal potential.
Early on, it has helped that Olofsson fits into the quick, all-out attack style coach Ralph Krueger seems to want to play in Buffalo. It has also helped that Olofsson, a more offensive-minded forward, has been aided by two strong two-way players in Eichel and Reinhart. The dynamics have worked. But likely the biggest influence on Olofsson’s early success is the journey he’s taken to get to the NHL.
Back in 2014, when he was drafted, Olofsson had shown plenty of upside with a 32-goal performance in Sweden’s SuperElit circuit, and though he had failed to score in any of the 11 SHL games in which he played, it was clear there was potential. And while it took a few years at the pro level for Olofsson to uncover that potential, he has experienced a rapid rise since his 14-goal, 29-point 2015-16 campaign with MODO. In that sense, Olofsson is not unlike other European imports who are making their NHL debuts this season – Elvis Merzlikins (Columbus Blue Jackets, 25), Nikita Gusev (New Jersey Devils, 27), Joakim Nygard (Edmonton Oilers, 26), Gaetan Haas (Edmonton Oilers, 27) and Ilya Mikheyev (Toronto Maple Leafs, 24) – in that he spent time prior to his NHL arrival as an important piece on European sides.
Spending additional time overseas was likely always going to be the path for Olofsson, of course. Seventh-round picks aren’t expected to make immediate jumps to the NHL. But the wise move the Sabres made was allowing him to improve back home before bringing him over. Playing against men while still a junior-aged player helped, just as it helps many of the top-tier European prospects make smooth transitions as rookies. For instance, when Kaapo Kakko made his NHL debut last week, it wasn’t a huge change for the star prospect because he already had a full season of pro under his belt. In Olofsson’s case, he had three years of experience before the transition to North America last season. Once he adjusted to the smaller ice, he was dangerous. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s several years older than a number of his rookie counterparts.
Giving Olofsson the extra time to marinate overseas has not only helped the player, but now it stands to aid a team in desperate need of scoring help. Prior to Skinner’s 40-goal 2018-19 season, the last Sabre to eclipse 30 goals in a season was Jason Pominville in 2011-12. And while it’s obviously still far too early to assume a 30-goal campaign for Olofsson, his experience, his AHL output, his PNHLe projections and his pairing with a playmaker of Eichel’s caliber doesn’t make it so far-fetched. And even if he falls short, his performance early should give Sabres fans reason to believe that the wait has been worth it.
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