Any time you watch an NHL prospects challenge - regardless of the teams involved - there’s always at least one player who stands out among the rest. Maybe he’s the oldest, or not; maybe he’s the one with the most NHL experience, or not, but there’s always that player who very clearly does not need to be playing in a prospects tournament, and is at a higher level than the others.
For the Buffalo Sabres, Victor Olofsson is that player, and he demonstrated that particularly this past Friday and Saturday as the Sabres took on the New Jersey Devils and the Boston Bruins in Prospects Challenge action at Harborcenter in downtown Buffalo.
At 24, Olofsson was one of the older players in the room for the Sabres this weekend, nearly six years the senior of first-round draft pick Dylan Cozens. He’s also one of the only Sabres players participating in the Prospects Challenge with NHL experience under his belt, albeit limited, and with that, he knew that a leadership role would be expected of him.
“I kind of put those expectations on myself to be a leader in this team, to work as hard as I can,” he said.
Olofsson sported an “A” on his jersey in both games, alongside Will Borgen and Rasmus Asplund.
“It’s an honor, for sure,” he said. “I’m trying to be a leader and a good role model for the younger guys, so that means a lot.”
“I’m trying to be a leader and a good role model for the younger guys, so that means a lot.”
Olofsson had a sharp game on Friday as the Sabres beat the Devils 6-4. He anchored the left side of the top line, centered by Rasmus Asplund and Andrew Oglevie, and had multiple dangerous chances throughout the course of the game. It didn’t take him long to find the back of the net, as he made it 2-0 on an absolute snipe of a shot early on:
Not long after, he nearly scored again but just missed the connection on a pass from free agent invite Bobby MacIntyre. Olofsson also recorded an assist on the Sabres’ third goal of the night, a top-shelf wrist shot from Oglevie. The duo clearly demonstrated their chemistry over the course of the weekend, and it was a treat for Sabres fans to watch.
Olofsson recorded his third point of the night on a later goal from defenseman Will Borgen.
He was initially quieter in Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Bruins, but remained a steady presence on the ice as part of that top line with Asplund and Oglevie from the previous night. The trio combined for Buffalo’s first goal of the evening, and Olofsson reminded fans that he’s quite good at hockey upon scoring the Sabres’ second goal with a beautiful release from the right of the net.
“We know each other so well,” Olofsson said of his chemistry with Asplund. “We got an entire season playing together, so it helps a lot. We know where we have each other, and it’s just easy playing with him. He’s such a good guy.”
Olofsson is making a hard push to find a roster spot in the NHL this season, and although this weekend was just a seemingly-pointless prospects tournament that in the end won’t amount to much, it was a good reminder of just how good he is already. Still, regardless of what level he’s at, he can still find value in the tournament.
“I feel like I get a little head start, just to get into the pace of the game and find the timing and everything,” Olofsson said. “It’s a little bit off after a long summer, so it definitely feels nice to get a couple games in.”
Chris Taylor, who served as head coach for the Prospects Challenge, thought Olofsson played very well over the two games.
“I thought he controlled the puck well, did a lot of nifty little plays,” Taylor said. “Obviously, his goal (on Friday) was remarkable. He can shoot the puck, but I liked his other game as well. Penalty-killing, he did a very good job, and I liked his wall play. I just like how he handled the puck down low in the offensive zone.”
Olofsson has all of six games of NHL experience, but don’t forget, he also has four seasons in the Swedish Hockey League under his belt. He may have been a seventh-round draft pick back in 2014, but he’s shaping up to look like quite the steal so far in his young North American career. Of the 30 players picked in the seventh round that year, Olofsson is one of only three with NHL experience. A handful of players picked alongside him appear to not even be playing hockey anymore, but thankfully, that isn’t the case here.
Now the question is, where will Olofsson and his deadly shot wind up playing this season: Buffalo, or Rochester?