The 2019-20 season was a league-wide coming out party for Victor Olofsson, who was able to produce offense for a Buffalo Sabres franchise in dire need of assistance from its supporting cast. While it would certainly be overly optimistic to cement Olofsson alongside the franchise cornerstones in Rasmus Dahlin and Jack Eichel, the Sabres’ seventh-round pick in the 2014 NHL draft could not have drawn up a better statistical start to his NHL career.
The Sabres newly appointed general manager Kevyn Adams’ busy offseason introduced several fresh faces to the roster after another lackluster regular season. Ultimately, the team’s future success will hinge on the players’ abilities to buy into the new system that on paper should be able to dispel the team’s notorious playoff drought.
While Ralph Krueger has plenty of offensive options to work with and won’t need to lean on Olofsson in a forward rotation that has plenty of veteran firepower, how the Swedish forward builds on the successes of his rookie season can drastically influence the new-look Sabres ceiling.
An Impressive Inaugural Season
Olofsson scored 42 points in 54 games with the Sabres in the 2019-20 season and was named to the All-Rookie Team. The young forward’s efforts bore fruit as he subsequently signed a two-year deal worth $6.1 million with the Sabres on Oct.29.
The deal sees both parties mutually benefit; the 25-year-old will have the opportunity to showcase his talents and improve upon entering his prime athletic years while making a modest $3.05 million a year, while the Sabres acquire financial flexibility that, if employed correctly, can improve and elongate their future contention window.
Last season, Olofsson exhibited a natural ability to find open space on the ice that enabled him to score in abundance, particularly on the powerplay where he was able to find the back of the net 11 times, topping all rookies and placing 11th in the league.
When playing with Eichel, a mismatch for opposing teams on any given night that rightly absorbs most of the defensive attention as a result, Olofsson capitalized on the ice he was bestowed instead of shying away from the limelight.
Eric Staal may not play with the same youthful spring he displayed in his early years, nevertheless, he remains a competent playmaker that can bring out the best in a young sparkplug such as Olofsson if he finds himself on the second line. It doesn’t hurt that upon landing in Buffalo, Staal made it known he doesn’t want to harm the established team culture. According to the veteran, if it meant winning more hockey games Staal would willfully embrace a supportive role that sees him defer to younger linemates.
A Promising yet Humble Mindset
While he has already developed a potent offensive game, Olofsson must improve his two-way game, a notion the promising talent himself acknowledged upon signing his new deal. In addition, while many rookies might stagnate upon signing a life-changing contract, The Swedish talent is adamant about further improving his game to live up to the team’s expectations.
When speaking about his renewed contract with the Sabres, Olofsson said he knows he can outdo his performance from last season. “I mean, first of all, it’s a really good contract and it’s kind of life-changing for me,” Olofsson said. “But at the same time, I know I can do even better and […] I want to prove myself in the upcoming year.”
He added that playing alongside newly acquired veterans Taylor Hall and Staal will only benefit his growth as a player and expects the team will be more successful as a result. On top of Olofsson’s innate abilities that saw him quickly adapt to the NHL in his first year, Eichel said it’s the rookie’s work ethic and sense of accountability that left a positive impression on the team captain.
An Outlook for the 2020-21 Sabres
The Sabres have done well in obtaining and developing raw talent in the draft over the years and acquiring key pieces by way of free agency signings and trades. However, needless to say, it takes more than simply talent to succeed at the highest level.
For better or worse, the team has cemented its goalie rotation for the upcoming season, valuing familiarity and internal development in bringing back Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton. Goaltending has proven to be a position that requires deliberate attention and care. If Ullmark continues to trend upward in his performance as he displayed last season, he can potentially surprise the pessimistic Sabres fans who were eager for new faces in the net.
There is no doubt the netminders must step up and outperform expectations if the team aspires to make a deep playoff run. However, skaters must also buy into a neutral philosophy that gives the goalies a better chance at stopping pucks and sees a healthy balance of offense and defense.
As currently constructed, the Sabres roster on paper can undoubtedly score with the best teams in the NHL. How the players and forwards care for their own end of the ice however will make or break the upcoming season for the Sabres.