Expectations for Olofsson’s rookie season

In what will likely be his first full season in the NHL, it will be interesting to see how the Sabres utilize the 24-year-old sniper

During the 2018-19 season, fans of the Buffalo Sabres certainly weren’t shy about expressing their desire to see one of the Rochester Amerks’ stars get a chance to play with the big club. Victor Olofsson was perhaps the most requested name, as his goal-scoring prowess transitioned both seamlessly, and immediately during his first year of North American hockey.

With 30 goals (and 33 assists) in 66 games at the AHL level last season, the Swedish sniper finished the year tied for eighth in the league in that category. Perhaps much later than most fans had wanted, Olofsson did finally get a small taste of NHL action, spending the final six games of the regular season with Buffalo, where he continued to turn heads (those that were still watching, anyway), registering four points.

As a result of his rookie success with the Amerks last season, he is seen by most as a virtual lock to make the Sabres’ opening night roster. While his full-time presence with the big club is probably a safe bet, fans have placed great expectations on Olofsson to be a big part of the solution to the team’s perpetual scoring woes.

Sean Tierney of Charting Hockey recently released an NHL equivalency chart (or NHLe, for short), which indicates the anticipated NHL scoring production from a given player when you adjust for what they were able to accomplish in lower-tier leagues. This visualization is based on a concept originated by Gabe Desjardins (which is explained more in depth here, for those interested).

According this metric, Olofsson’s NHL production equivalency comes in at around 27 points. That number might come as a shock for some who expect the young winger to pick up right where he left off in 2018-19.

Before we lose our heads, there are certain factors that need to be taken into account. First, it’s important to consider the fact that 24 of his 66 points (about 36.3%) in the AHL last season, came with the man-advantage. That’s not to take anything away from the value of his proficiency in that area, but there is no guarantee that, should he indeed make the team, he’ll serve on the top power-play unit in Buffalo (though it’s obviously a possibility).

On top of that, the data does not account for which linemates Olofsson might skate with this season, another reason why, while valuable for indicating base expectations, it cannot be taken solely at face value. With that in mind, given the Sabres’ current roster composition, the projection might actually end up being closer to reality than some might think.

The first thing to consider here, is the fact that, despite the offseason additions of Marcus Johansson and Jimmy Vesey, the Sabres aren’t particularly deep at forward. Casey Mittelstadt still figures to slot in as the second line center, and at least one of Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart will still be riding shotgun with Jack Eichel up top.

If Skinner does end up manning the left side of the first line (as many expect to be the case), Olofsson would need to transition to the right side (which isn’t out of the realm of possibility) in order to skate with the team’s only proven scoring centerman. If he ends up being delegated to second line duties beside Mittelstadt, the points won’t come as easily, though if Reinhart ends up on with them (which he absolutely should in that case), it would certainly help matters.

This of course operates under the assumption that Olofsson would serve in the top-six under new head coach, Ralph Krueger, which, as much sense as it might make to put him with other offensively capable assets given his skill set, isn’t a guarantee. In short, “points by association” might be tough to come by. While he did produce offence during his call-up last season, it’s not a coincidence that he was able to do it with Eichel and Reinhart as his most prominent (nearly exclusive, in fact) linemates. If the 24-year-old is going to be used in a role where he will be relied upon to drive production beside inferior playmakers, there will almost certainly be some growing pains.

Again, none of this is meant to take anything away from Olofsson’s ability as one of the best shooters (if not the best) in the organization. Anyone with his particular skill set will likely find a reasonable amount of success at the NHL level. It’s the expectation surrounding the immediacy and intensity of that success that perhaps needs to be tempered, depending primarily on his overall utilization.

All of that being said, is a 27-point projection too low? Probably, but it isn’t necessarily unreasonable, especially on a Sabres team that is far from a finished product up front.

Fans in Western New York will be able to see Olofsson in action this weekend as he suits up for the blue-and-gold during the annual Prospects Challenge at HarborCenter from September 6-9th.

Linemate TOI Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick