Prospects are intriguing to say the least. For some, they provide a look into how one's favorite team may look in the coming years. For others, like myself, it gives you some semblance of hope to continue rooting for the teams we hold near and dear to our hearts. Yes, unfortunately, I belong to the latter category and have been a Sabres Mafia faithful for over a decade.
Before you call this a homer pick, just hear me out! Yes it’s true life in the trenches of the Buffalo Sabres fandom for the last 10 years has been bleak to say the least but thankfully the darkest days are over, right? It’s because of this passionate fandom and hard-nosed ride or die attitude that gave me this fascination with NHL prospects in general.
Thanks to this continual suckfest buffalo has been hosting for the past decade there are many franchise staples in place for this team except one intangible; a complete out of nowhere stud that makes you re-check your stat lines on a nightly basis. I think Victor Olofsson may be the answer this teams been searching for. It's easy to look at top overall picks like Jack Hughes (No.1, 2019) or Kappo Kakko (No.2, 2019) and think yeah they should be great now, let alone in a couple of years. However the road was not so easy for Slick Vick.
As the name suggests Victor Olofsson comes from Sweden. It makes sense not many people outside of Buffalo have heard his name, as he was a late draft pick of the old regime back in 2014 under pee-pee wacker Tim Murray. How late you may ask? Try Round seven, 181st overall in a draft which only featured 210 picks in its entirety. Most teams aren’t lucky enough to find a professional player past the fourth round, however Olofsson appears to be an exception.
Drafted out of the MODO organization in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), Olofsson’s ability to shoot the puck is what truly separated himself from most during his draft class, while questions around his skating and size became the most apparent issue. With improved statistics, and an increased role given to Olofsson throughout his 5 seasons in the SHL, Buffalo ensured they took their time in developing Victor. By keeping him there so long, they allowed him to balance out his overall game and improve his skating ability to the NHL average. He isn’t going to be a speedster by any means, but he maintained the incredible shot he had when he was drafter. Just check out this one-timer! (0:55)
Olofsson came over to North America for the 2018-2019 season after finishing the previous season leading the SHL in goals with 27. In his first season with the Buffalo Sabres affiliate the Rochester Americans, Olofsson ripped up the minors and put up 63pts in 66GP. These totals consisted of 30 goals and 33 assists, displaying just what Sabres scouts were hopeful of back in the 2014 draft. Like most prospects, Victor received a small NHL stint after a much-deserved mid-March call-up. Olofsson was able to suit up for six games where he managed to put up two goals and two assists, playing on the top line with the likes of Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.
Analytics vs. Intangibles
Sample size is everything. With that in mind, it's important to look deeper into some of the analytical data which is all the rage in today's hockey know it alls. The simplest analytical statistic that I find is effective in determining a player's worth is CORSI. For any of those who are unfamiliar with this fancy stat, it details the relative chances for/against for one's team while said player is on the ice, and is notated as a percentage from 1-100 with over 50% equaling good and under equaling bad.
Pretty simple right? Well in his short stint with the Sabres, Olofsson maintained the best CORSI average out of anyone who played for the Sabres over the past season as 59.9%. To me personally, analytics aren't everything, and there must be some emphasis placed on the ‘eye test' as well. Slick Vick passed this with flying colours as well. Just look at his ridiculous no-look breakaway pass to Eichel in the slot against Detroit!
As previously mentioned, in my opinion much more goes into what makes a good hockey player outside of just analytics. One of these intangibles is a lengthy history of playing professionally at a young age such as Olofsson. We are starting to see this trend more often every year where prospects coming out of leagues such as the SHL, DEL, or the NL out of Switzerland are much more prepared to play at the professional level over other alternatives.
With a higher level of competition and expectations as a professional, young prospects outside of the top tier going through these avenues are finding more initial success when stepping into the league. Olofsson saw this benefit in his development as playing as a teenager in a fully grown SHL can truly show a player what it takes to play with men rather than others his age.
All of this has brought us to what I believe to be a breakout season in the NHL for Victor Olofsson in 2019-2020. The preseason proved that Olofsson has proven he is ready for a top six role on the wing in Buffalo (a team in desperate need of scoring depth.) Likely being placed next to C Jack Eichel and RW Sam Reinhart similar to the end of last season, Olofsson will reap the rewards very similar to the struggling Jeff Skinner of a year ago before landing in Buffalo.
While I do not see a season goal total as large as Skinner's from the 2018-2019 season, with the elite vision and puck distribution of both Eichel and Reinhart, there’s almost no doubt in my mind Olofsson can put up similar numbers to his AHL season last year. What should be a sure-fire staple on their top powerplay unit (which has been nothing but a success here in the pre-season), Olofsson's one-timer will be a new deadly reality for any NHL Goaltender.
Now I'm not crazy mind you. The years of hopeless hockey in Western New York have ensured that I tame myself from all the hoopla, especially following the 10-Game winning streak last season. I remain based in reality however, that I truly see a Calder Trophy candidate in Olofsson at the end of this season, and can realistically see a 30G 30A output. Yes, I would be crazy if I proclaimed Olofsson a sure-fire Calder Trophy winner as this season’s crop of rookies, in particular, appears to be loaded. A nomination, however, may not be so far off for this young sniper. If you're in the search for a late-round Fantasy Sleeper pick which will make your friends think you're a hockey wizard, look no further. Hopefully, Olofsson will be a small bright spot in the endless void which seems to be Buffalo sports, although who knows... It is the Sabres.