Since being drafted as a seventh-round pick in the 2014 draft, Victor Olofsson has been one of the Sabres’ few successes in drafting and developing prospects. Known for his shot, the Swedish winger showed what his potential could be when playing with an elite playmaker like Jack Eichel. However, the time has come for the Sabres to move on from him, and they are sitting in a great position to do so with their prospect pool and abundance of salary cap space.
Making the Case for a Trade
Olofsson scored 20 goals in his first full NHL season and then followed it up with 13 in last year’s campaign. This season has been one of ups and downs for Olofsson. He has 10 goals and 27 points in 50 games, missing 10 contests due to injury. Goal-scorers are typically streaky, and he is no exception. While he has recently picked it up with three goals in his last six games, he has had goalless streaks of five and 23 this season. The best value he brings to your team is always going to be his shot and the ability to play on your power play, yet this season he’s only scored twice with the man advantage.
Moving on from him may not be something some Sabres want to hear, but finding a slot for him moving forward is going to become increasingly difficult, especially when considering the minimal five-on-five contributions. Taking a look at what is coming for the Sabres, they already have a few players who could man the right side of the power play in Peyton Krebs, Casey Mittelstadt and specifically JJ Peterka. On top of that, the Sabres could be better off acquiring a player who contributes more on their penalty kill and someone they can slot anywhere into their top-nine. At 26, this will likely be one of his final contracts in the NHL, and he would be inclined to expect a raise from the salary he made this season.
Looking at the power play is one thing, but it’s also difficult to see Olofsson cracking the top-six on this team next season, and there could only be one additional spot in the top-nine. All signs would indicate the red hot trio of Tage Thompson, Alex Tuch and Jeff Skinner will stick together. The Sabres will likely see Peterka and Jack Quinn graduate to the NHL level next season, and Krebs is already here. There will likely be an opening on the left side of Dylan Cozens and Kyle Okposo, but the Sabres will have better options via trade or free agency. There will certainly be some degree of roster turnover during the summer, but those look to be eight of the Sabres’ top nine forwards for next season.
Landing Spots and Replacements
Finding potential suitors for Olofsson shouldn’t be too difficult. Edmonton has a need for another top-six winger, even with the addition of Evander Kane, and the thought of him firing shots from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is surely an exciting thought for Oilers fans. The New York Rangers could also look to acquire a scoring winger, as players like Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko have failed to live up to draft expectations thus far. The Minnesota Wild, Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals all make sense as well, with middling power plays and desire for forward depth.
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Internally, Brett Murray is a player who could be a candidate to replace Olofsson. While his NHL action was limited this season, he showed some promise as a power forward who can hold his own around the net in the offensive zone. Outside of Murray, they could move Rasmus Asplund into an increased role on the team, with more offensive zone time and some power-play minutes as well. The Sabres have other wingers in their farm system, but there aren’t many who will be NHL ready by next season.
Should they choose to seek an external candidate, Bryan Rust from Pittsburgh is a player that could slot into this lineup quite nicely. Rust would likely command more in free agency than what they would have to pay Olofsson. But with Rust, you’re getting a player who can play in any situation at any time of the game. Nino Niederreiter and Reilly Smith are two more potential suitors for the Sabres next season. They both have the ability to play anywhere in your lineup and can contribute to either power-play unit.
Additionally, the Sabres have three first-round picks in the upcoming draft, with the ability to add more draft picks at the trade deadline. While their own draft pick will likely land in the top five, the Vegas Golden Knights and Florida Panthers picks shouldn’t be anywhere in the top half of the draft. The Sabres could stand pat and make a selection with all three of those picks, but it would be more reasonable for them to move one of them plus some other assets for a roster player. Doing so could net them a really nice top-nine forward that they desperately need.
The Sabres will have enough salary cap space next season to make these moves, as well as reconstruct other parts of the lineup as they see fit. If they have the opportunity to upgrade their top nine by moving on from Olofsson and spending a little more to get a difference-maker in every facet of the game, they should take full advantage.