Winners of five of their first six games this season, the Buffalo Sabres are off to a better start than virtually anyone in the hockey world have predicted. Ralph Kruger’s new system has drawn rave reviews while several players (both incumbents and newcomers) are exceeding expectations. One such player is rookie forward, Victor Olofsson who broke an NHL-record this week, registering his seventh straight goal on the power-play to start his NHL career (dating back to the end of last season).
During the 2018-19 campaign with the Rochester Amerks (his first full season on North American ice), Olofsson was spectacular, scoring a team-best 63 points in 66 games. From the moment the Sabres started struggling in December of last year, fans clamored to see then 23-year-old receive a call-up to the big club. Aside from a six-game stint at the end of the regular season, he played almost exclusively in the AHL, despite the Sabres’ desperate need for scoring reinforcements.
Clearly, Jason Botterill was going to stick to his plan and allow him a full year to continue his development in the minor league. Whether or not that decision has resulted in his near seamless transition to NHL action this season (and toward the end of last season) is unknown, but the Swedish sniper has earned a permanent spot with in Buffalo, given his immediate impact in the top-six (and on the team’s top man-advantage unit) beside Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.
Earlier this week, his strong play was rewarded with a vote of confidence from the organization when he was informed that he’d be sticking around for a while (as if that wasn’t already apparent).
After practice, Krueger confirmed #Sabres' rookies Victor Olofsson and Henri Jokiharju have been given the green light to find a more permanent housing situation. The message: they'll be around for a while.— J.T. Messinger (@JTMessinger) October 13, 2019
Jokiharju when asked for his reaction: "Happy." @WGRZ pic.twitter.com/iKkK7Qaq2W
In his 12 career contests to date, Olofsson has registered 11 points (seven goals and four assists). This season, five of his seven points have come on the power-play where he has quickly become the team’s most dangerous shooter across from Eichel on the right side of the formation. His current conversion rate of 33.3-percent as a shooter has helped Buffalo kick-off the year with the top power-play unit in the league, capitalizing on 42.86-percent of their opportunities so far.
There is no question that those gaudy percentages will taper-off at some point, but it remains to be seen to what extent. Leading up to training camp, there was a general consensus that the Sabres’ proficiency on special teams would be a significant determining factor in their overall improvement in Krueger’s inaugural season behind the bench. Olofsson’s presence (not to mention a change in tactical approach) has been a much-needed addition to a unit that ranked near the middle of the pack last season.
Though the sample size is quite small, subtle improvements have also started to take place in his 5-on-5 play over the past couple of games. While most of his early shortcomings at even-strength have been largely overlooked due to his impressive power-play production, he was struggling a bit in that area early-on.
In fact, the entire Olofsson-Eichel-Reinhart line has experienced a bit of an inconsistent start at even-strength, posting a combined relative-Corsi of -7.52-percent so far, which is again, is being ignored to an extent due to their lethality on the power-play.
It’s way too early to discern anything concrete from WOWY charts, but in the short period of time that Eichel and Reinhart have spent without Olofsson this season, their relative-Corsi as a duo has been quite good at 12.04-percent. It isn’t that they’ve produced more offensive chances without him, but they have allowed fewer opportunities defensively, which tracks, given what we’ve seen from him so far.
Again, there just isn’t enough data to suggest that Olofsson’s even-strength impact (or lack thereof) has been that detrimental to his line’s Corsi ratio to this point, but it’s certainly something to monitor as the season progresses.
In the Sabres’ 4-0 victory over the Dallas Stars on Monday, Olofsson put-forth his best even-strength effort of the season, posting an individual relative-Corsi percentage of -2.70, and contributing the primary assist on Reinhart’s even-strength tally in the second period. That mark still isn’t very good, but it does represent a modest improvement, nonetheless. Watching him flaunt his skill as a playmaker, threading an excellent backhand pass through traffic on Reinhart’s goal, was also nice to see.
During his time in the AHL last season, Amerks fans were relatively consistent in praising the defensive strides Olofsson had made as the year went on, so he’s no stranger to honing in and improving specific areas of his game. Considering his incredible offensive production to date, his two-way game remains a peripheral concern, for now.
Obviously, it takes time to get acclimated to NHL action, so nobody will fault him (and by extension, his linemates) for taking a few games to get situated at 5-on-5. Regardless, his play in that area seems to be getting better, and that continued trend will be important to keep an eye on moving forward, especially when you consider his status as a pending RFA.
With his current entry-level contract set to expire on July 1, his overall statistical production will play a key role in what type of deal he commands in the offseason. If he can continue to rack up points on the power-play and improve his production with Eichel and Reinhart on the Sabres’ de facto top line, he could be in for a very significant pay increase; bridge deal, or otherwise.
Corsi Statistics courtesy of Natural Stat Trick
Corsi Differential Graph courtesy of Charting Hockey
WOWY Chart courtesy of HockeyViz