Asplund, Olofsson understand what it takes to make it to the NHL

Two Sabres prospects playing in the SHL don’t want to just make it to North America for the sake of making it, they want to make it for good.

Patrik Bexell and Mitch Brown are regular contributors to Eyes on the Prize, and were gracious enough to interview Victor Olofsson and Rasmus Asplund this week about their seasons in the SHL, their goals as players, and their contact with the Sabres organization.

Victor Olofsson

Victor Olofsson took the step form a free-falling MoDo squad to the team at the top of the SHL, Frölunda, at the end of last season. While it has been a tough adjustment it is something that Olofsson feels has been the right move.

“It has been a bit of a roller coaster here in Frölunda for me this season, I have learned a lot. My biggest learning curve has been in the situations without the puck,” said Victor Olofsson when we got a chance for a short interview after one of Frölunda’s practices.

“The main difference between Frölunda and MoDo is the fact the here everything is stable, whereas in MoDo we had a lot of players and coaches that came and went, and that the bounces usually went the wrong way on top of that. Here [in Frölunda] we have guys that has been here for ages, it is a clear leadership group that takes care of us players coming in as new players to the team. That’s the big difference.”

Having played in two competitions with Frölunda, the SHL and the Champions Hockey League, winning the latter, Olofsson has already won one title this year, and in the CHL he’s averaged close to a point per game (0.85). In the SHL it has been tougher, but with nine games to go Olofsson has started to pick up pace. Currently he has 23 points (9+14) and he is closing in on last year’s numbers (14+15).

Now he’s getting chances on one of Frölunda’s power play units and hopefully Olofsson can break that personal point record. “I feel I have found my offensive game too that last couple of weeks, as of this moment I have a good feeling about my own hockey.”

As for how his contact with Buffalo goes, it seems that the Sabres are aware of  Olofsson’s progress this year. “Buffalo is keeping tabs on me, we have mail contact but most is being handled by the Scandinavian scouts, Jan Axel Alavraa and Anders Forsberg. Both of them have been my coaches previously so it feels good, they know my strengths and help me work on my weaknesses.”

Buffalo is most definitely on Olofsson’s mind. “My dream is obviously to play over there, but I also don’t feel the need to go over just for the sake of going over. I want to go over to succeed.”

He looks to previous players from Frölunda as inspiration for a successful jump over the Atlantic. “Mattias JanMark and Artturi Lehkonen made the jump from Frölunda and the SHL directly to the NHL. I feel I am starting to get there even if it goes slowly.”

In an upcoming PuckDrop Europe podcast (which you can listen to here) Olofsson’s current teammate Jonathan Sigalet says that Olofsson is, “the fastest guy in the SHL and he has an NHL shot, those two skills off the bat should get him into an NHL line up.”

Rasmus Asplund

In 31 games with a struggling Färjestad in the SHL, Rasmus Asplund has racked up 16 points (3+13). We caught up with Asplund after a back-to-back meeting with Rögle, two tough games that Förjestad lost, one in OT (5-4) and one in regulation (2-1).

Fellow EOTP writer, @MitchLBrown gave this report Asplund’s performance:

Asplund showed solid defensive awareness on a pair of backchecks. He further demonstrated his defensive smarts on the penalty kill, particularly in one sequence where he intercepted a pass, the gained the offensive zone and took on three Rögle BK players to kill the final 15 seconds. On the other hand, there were multiple sequences where Asplund failed to initiate physical contact and was unable to win possession as a result.

The speed that Asplund plays at was noticeable from the first shift until the last. His powerful, upright stride is complemented with smooth crossovers giving him the illusion of “floating on ice.” He receives passes in stride, and has a soft first touch that enables him to get a quick hop on defenders and attack with speed. He looks for, and attempts, high difficulty passes, which he was unable to connect with in the game. His shot lacks in power, and in fact limits him to strictly a playmaker at the SHL-level, for now.

Asplund himself says, “I feel I am doing well, I am getting more responsibilities and I get to play on the first power play unit.” On that power play unit he plays with his old friend and teammate Joel Ericsson-Ek, who came back from the Minnesota Wild mid-season.

“It has been great to get Joel [Eriksson-Ek] back, for the team and for me personally. What he got to experience over there has helped him a lot and it works as an inspiration for me too.” Asplund continues, “We have played with each other since forever so we keep pushing each other to achieve the same goals really. It becomes a carrot for me to work for. We push each other, we compete and we both benefit from it in the long run.”

Buffalo is keeping a close eye on last year’s second round pick (taken #33 overall). “We speak about once a week, it’s a great thing, I am very happy with it. They obviously trust Färjestad, otherwise they would have called me over already.”

As for how the Sabres want him to develop, there is no question. “They obviously want me to get bigger and stronger, that’s the main difference of playing the game compared to here. I am still young and you have to work a lot with your physique in order to figure out what kind of player you become over there in the end. Still you need to get at least one level better in every phase of the game in order to make it into the NHL.”

In order to make it in the NHL Asplund might have to adapt and adjust his play a bit, but it’s not something that Buffalo has pushed for yet, as the young forward explains. “They haven’t pigeon holed me into a role yet, as it is a lot of role-players in the teams over there, we have to figure that out too before we know if I can make it over to the NHL.”

As with Victor Olofsson, there are certain young players from the SHL that have left a mark on Asplund and shown a possible route forward. “When you go over you need to be prepared, you want to avoid the AHL if you can. Look no further than Janmark, Lehkonen who made it out of camp, and how close Joel [Eriksson-Ek] was to make it out of camp. I am happy in Färjestad and the city too, and they are giving me a huge opportunity to develop.”

Asplund’s aim to make it to the NHL is clear. “You go over to take a place [on a team] that’s for sure. I you don’t make, it you have to go over the options at that time, but we can’t think about that now”.

Thanks again to both Patrik Bexell (@zeb_habs) and Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) for their help with this article. Check out more of their work over at Eyes on the Prize.