The Buffalo Sabres have had trouble scoring goals for what feels like much of the 2018-2019 season. Aside from the top line of Skinner - Eichel - Pominville/Reinhart, the team’s lack of depth scoring has been well documented. The chorus of Sabres fans clamoring for help from Victor Olofsson - who led the SHL in goals last season before making his debut with the Rochester Americans in October 2018 - has grown ever louder.
Olofsson’s North American career started off with a bang, as he put up seven points in three games and was awarded CCM AHL Player of the Week honors in just the second week of the season.
In the months since, he has gone on to become one of the Amerks most consistent offensive contributors.
Unfortunately, we can’t go full numbernerd regarding Olofsson’s usage and performance. The stats provided by the AHL are notoriously limited - they don’t even provide Time On Ice data - however, AHL President David Andrews mentioned during his State of the League address that they do collect TOI data and are investigating publicly releasing those stats.
All we can do is watch him play (which I’ve done quite a bit of) and look at the stats we are given.
Of all Amerks, Olofsson currently ranks:
- First in Total Goals (21)
- First in Assists (26)
- Fourth in Points Per Game (0.89)
- Third in Power Play Goals (6)
- First in Power Play Assists (15)
- Second in Game Winning Goals (7)
- Third lowest in PIM Per Game among all skaters with over 10 games played (0.23)
- Second in Shots on Goal (148)
- Sixth in Shooting Percentage (14.2)
It’s an impressive performance no matter how you look at it, but no one is really surprised by the former seventh-round draft pick’s offensive skillset. We were all pleasantly surprised to see him blossom from a late round question mark into one of the best offensive prospects in the Sabres’ pipeline.
From Jason Botterill’s very first press conference as GM of the Buffalo Sabres, he has preached the importance of developing players from within and developing a winning culture and attitude at all levels of the organization, including in Rochester, where the Amerks are currently one of the AHL’s best teams. There is no question that Olofsson’s development this season is a template for how Botterill wants to develop all of the organization’s prospects.
The concern with Olofsson has always been the defensive side of his game. There have been plenty of successful one-sided NHL players, but it’s always better to find and/or develop a player who can handle both ends of the ice.
In the absence of advanced stats, the most obvious sign that his game has rounded out is that in the past month the coaching staff has added him to a penalty kill unit. They are trusting him to be on the ice during some of their most vulnerable in-game moments and he has delivered. The Amerks PK now ranks fifth overall in the league at 83%, and it’s been humming along at 90% in the past 10 games.
As much as it pains me to say this - because I love watching him play for the Amerks and he’s a key reason the team is playing so well this season - but I think Olofsson’s game has developed enough on both ends of the ice to warrant his first recall to the Sabres. He’s playing big minutes in all situations and continues to put up points while not being a defensive liability.
When Might It Happen?
If we’re being realistic, the Sabres playoff hopes are very likely gone, so the team will likely transition into “see what we’ve got” mode sometime in the next week or two. But will Jason Botterill be interested in disrupting a strong Amerks team that is in the thick of an extremely tight playoff race in the AHL’s North Division?
The Amerks are currently leading the division by two points over Syracuse, who still have two games in-hand. The difference between leading the division and being on the outside looking in is a mere nine points with twenty games remaining. Completely missing the playoffs is unlikely, but not out of the question with all five teams playing very well lately and a lot of intra-divisional games still on the schedule.
There aren’t really any soft spots on the Amerks schedule from here on out. If I were to guess, Botterill might give Olofsson a look in Buffalo during one of these stretches:
Second Week of March
In this stretch, the Sabres could bring Olofsson along for a quick road trip without impacting the Amerks too severely, as he’d only potentially miss a few games, a couple of which are vs bottom-feeding Binghamton.
Last Week of March
This might be the more likely scenario. By leaving Olofsson in Rochester for the majority of March, he can help the team as they try to build a cushion between themselves and the rest of their division. Hopefully by the end of March they’ll have a more secure hold on first place and losing Olofsson wouldn’t be as much of a worry.
In this stretch, Olofsson could potentially play as many as five NHL games while only missing three AHL games, so that could be a win-win for the organization.
Whatever happens with the remainder of this season, it’s safe to say that Victor Olofsson has cemented his place as one of the organization’s top prospects. Looking ahead to the offseason, development camp, and training camp, there’s no reason to believe he won’t have a legitimate opportunity to start the 2019-2020 season as a member of the Buffalo Sabres.
Just for fun... here’s a sampling of some his best goals of the season.