The Buffalo Sabres added another loss to their season total last night. It wasn’t nearly as bad of a game as we saw Tuesday night in Ottawa but still had some rough moments.
At this point of the season, the performance of the young players are the focus of a lot of fans and Victor Olofsson delivered last night. The 23-year-old forward made his NHL debut and it was an impressive one right from the opening puck drop.
Olofsson was lucky enough to have the opportunity to play on a line with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart in his first game. Getting the opportunity to play with arguably the Sabres best two playmakers will make a lot of players look good. However, he didn’t look out of place at all on that line and impressed Eichel with his performance.
“I thought he brought a really good spark to our team, I think you know the combination of his skill and I think he competes hard on pucks, I think he’s a smart player, obviously an elite shot,” said the Sabres captain after the game last night.
That line itself was dangerous throughout the night and gave the Red Wings fits.
It’s easy for players, especially rookies, to feel like they need to defer to players like Eichel and Reinhart when they’re on the ice with them. Olofsson didn’t play a timid game last night and wasn’t afraid to shoot the puck. He had five shots on goal and nine shot attempts in total (seven shot attempts at 5 on 5).
After that game, he said that was his approach going in, “that’s always one of my goals to shoot the puck as much as I can.”
It’s only one game, of course, so we won’t get ahead of ourselves here. Having said that, the thing that stood out the most is something that we saw with Olofsson in Sweden, that translated to the AHL, and now to the NHL in his debut. He always seems to be in the right spot.
The puck just finds playmakers and goal scorers because they know the areas to go to, as well as the hockey IQ to understand how a play is developing. Last night he led the team in individual scoring chances at 5 on 5 with four according to Natural Stat Trick. He had a great scoring chance on his first shift that went off a stick and put a puck off the crossbar later in the game.
His willingness to go to the high-danger areas and ability to find the holes in the defense remind me of the way that Jeff Skinner plays. To be clear, I’m not saying he’s going to have a career like Skinner. However, in all levels of his pro career to this point, he’s shown a tendency to go to prime scoring spots on the ice.
Olofsson was the Sabres leader in individual expected goals last night in all situations (0.63) and at 5 on 5 (0.59) according to Evolving Hockey. It was actually the 11th best ixG performance of any Sabres player during a game this season. Not bad for a player making their NHL debut.
The Sabres need more players that can shoot the puck efficiently and do it from quality locations. Olofsson showed the potential to meet that requirement.
It wasn’t just his shot that was on display, but the Swedish native showed off his vision as well. He made a few nice passes to start rushes up the ice and made his best pass on the Sabres fourth goal to tie the game late in the third period; picking up his first NHL point.
Eichel goal replay. Great plays from Olofsson and Reinhart to make it happen. pic.twitter.com/Zw2LAYlQ2P— Ben Mathewson (@Ben_Mathewson) March 29, 2019
Olofsson’s playmaking ability has been a surprise to some in the AHL this season as well. Along with his 27 goals, he has 33 assists in 64 games for the Amerks. He’s going to get a lot of attention from the defense looking to take away space due to his shot. Which in turn would mean his teammates should have some more space to get themselves into scoring areas and Olofsson has been able to find them this season.
Again, it’s only one game. I’m not going to anoint him as a legitimate top-line winger yet. We’ll see how the rest of this season in the NHL goes and how he performs in the AHL playoffs.
He’s made some big strides from training camp to where he is now. At the very least, his debut was extremely encouraging for a player that was selected in the seventh-round back in 2014.