Olofsson following a similar path to success

Victor Olofsson has started to find his game at 5 on 5

Victor Olofsson has been an intriguing forward for the Buffalo Sabres for a few years now. The 2014 seventh-round pick started to catch the attention of fans when he scored 27 goals for Frolunda in the SHL back in the 2017-18 season. Last year, in the AHL with the Rochester Americans he grew into a legitimate possibility of being an impact player in the NHL with one of the best shots in the game.

At the start of this season, the Swedish forward got off to a hot start but cooled off after the first few weeks of the season. Now, he’s found his game again and is making more of an impact beyond the power play.

Following the AHL Path

Olofsson is following a similar road as to the one he traveled last season in the AHL. He started strong with the Amerks but went into a lull after the first month of the season. Then around the middle of December, he started to find his way again and produce with consistency. The biggest area of improvement you could see in his game was at 5 on 5. He finished last season in the AHL with 30 goals and earned a short stint with the Sabres to end the season. Below you’ll find a visualization of his goals per game by month and how he took off a little more than halfway through the season.

Now, we’re seeing a similar trend take place with the Sabres. Olofsson started fast out of the gate by picking up six goals in the first seven games. However, all of those came with the man advantage. The 24-year-old then went into a stretch where he scored no goals over the next 8 games and only registered two points.

Then in his home country of Sweden, Olofsson picked up his first even-strength goal of the season. Since that goal, he’s looked like a different player at 5 on 5. In the last 12 games, he has five goals and 11 points. All but two of those points have come at even strength.

Through 28 games, he’s on pace for 32 goals this season and 61 points. That’s a strong rookie season and would likely be a Calder candidate at the end of the season if he keeps that pace up. It’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t as long as he continues to ride alongside Jack Eichel at 5 on 5.

What Changed?

He’s become more noticeable at 5 on 5 over the last few weeks and doesn’t look like he’s a step behind the play. He’s finding the open spaces on the ice and to use an old cliche; it looks like the game is slowing down for him.

His shot attempts show an uptick of the puck on his stick more often over the last 12 games. In the first 16 games of the season, he registered 8.67 shot attempts (iCF) per 60 minutes. Over the last 12 games, that number has jumped to 13.76 shot attempts per 60 minutes. His shot quality has improved as well. Indicating that he’s figured out how to get to the quality scoring areas. In the first 16 games, his individual shot quality (ixG) per 60 minutes was 0.48. Over the last 12, that number has improved to 0.63 according to Evolving Hockey.

Outside of his shooting, it’s hard to quantify in numbers what has improved in his game. His hockey IQ is something that is undervalued because of how great of a shot he has. He knows how to create just enough space for himself and move around the offensive zone to find that space. His goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night was a good example of that. Watch as he backs away from the Leafs defender to create the window for Eichel and fires it by Michael Hutchinson.

Olofsson has also improved his play along the walls. He’s done a better job winning puck battles and it has resulted in generating scoring chances for his team. One such example is when he won a puck race on the power play against the Boston Bruins to keep the play alive that resulted in a goal.

Another example is winning a 50/50 puck against the Carolina Hurricanes that resulted in the Sabres scoring the tying goal late in the third period.

Olofsson has the potential to be that late-round impact player that fans have been clamoring for. He’s shown the ability to adjust in the SHL, AHL, and now it appears he’s done so in the NHL. That’s a promising sign for the Sabres this season and the future to have a player with the potential to score 25 or more goals a season.

They’ve been looking for someone outside of their “big three” (Eichel, Skinner, and Reinhart) to step up as a consistent goal scorer. They may have found it in Olofsson.

Data via Evolving Hockey and The AHL