It was an impressive first full season in the National Hockey League for Buffalo Sabres winger Victor Olofsson.
The 25-year-old ended up finishing his 2019-20 campaign with 42 points (20+22) in 54 games played, which was good for fourth in league scoring among rookies. His hot start to the season earned him the NHL Rookie of the Month honor for both the months of October and December.
It's possible that Olofsson could have been in the running to be a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's Rookie of the Year, but a significant ankle injury on Jan. 2 derailed that thought and forced him to miss 15 games. He managed to return for 12 games in February and March before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the regular season.
If the 2019-20 season had been played to its entirety, Olofsson was on pace to score 25 goals and register 27 assists for 52 points in 67 games.
This offseason saw Olofsson's rookie contract with the Sabres expire, where he would become a restricted free agent. He was set to head to salary arbitration on Wednesday, Nov. 4, but he never got to that point after the Sabres re-signed the Swedish winger to a two-year contract on Thursday worth $6.1 million.
Olofsson felt that signing a two-year contract was the perfect deal for him at this time.
"I feel like even though I'm very comfortable and confident playing in the NHL, I haven't had a full season yet, and I want to show myself and prove to everybody that I'm a really good player in the NHL," Olofsson said on Friday in a Zoom conference call with the Buffalo media. "I felt like two years was a good time to kind of get relaxed, and know what's going to happen for the next two years and not have that pressure for playing for a new contract right away. It feels really good."
"It's kind of what I've been working for all my life. It's a great feeling. It's a really good contract, and it's life-changing for me. At the same time, I know I can do even better and I want to prove myself in the upcoming years here. I'm just really excited to be a part of this organization. I think we're building something really great here, so it's going to be a good start to this journey."
In his rookie season in the NHL, Olofsson quickly made himself known as a dangerous offensive threat playing on the left wing with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. Not only was he a dangerous scoring threat from the wing while playing at even strength, he also had a pinpoint accurate shot from the off-wing on the power play that garnered a ton of attention as the season went on.
While Olofsson is working this offseason to continue to improve his offensive game, he's looking to be even more of an impact player as a top-six forward in both ends of the ice.
"I'm looking to become an even better two-way player," Olofsson said. "I feel like I did become a lot better last year in the defensive part of my game. I feel like that's something I can take pride in and do even better. Obviously I want to get better offensively too. That's my strength, and I want to get even better and be even a bigger threat, especially during the 5-on-5 game. I've been working very hard.
"Last year was probably the most minutes I've ever played in my career so far. I felt like sometimes I got a little bit tired playing up to almost 20 minutes and even over 20 minutes sometimes. I've been working very hard with my endurance, and I'm still trying to become even quicker and faster out there."
Since his days playing with Frölunda HC in the Swedish Hockey League, Olofsson has been an impact top forward primarily playing on the left wing. When he made the jump to North America with the Rochester Americans in 2018, he transitioned well and continued his stellar play on the left side with his shot and speed.
With a good crop of left wingers in Buffalo heading into the 2020-21 season, Olofsson says that he would be comfortable with a move to the right wing, where he believes that he can be even more of a dangerous threat.
"I would say in the offensive zone for sure. I feel like I'm very comfortable just because I play there a lot on the power play," Olofsson said. "It could be a bit tougher sometimes in the defensive end, but I feel very confident playing off my backhand. I really like playing right wing."
Part of the reason for this possibility is the addition of Taylor Hall in free agency this offseason, to go along with Jeff Skinner already in the picture as well. If Olofsson makes the transition to the right wing and can continue to produce just as well as he did at left wing, it could help make Buffalo's top-six forward group be even more dangerous.
As for Hall, Olofsson was very impressed with the additions the team made in the offseason. In addition to the acquisition of center Eric Staal from the Minnesota Wild, Olofsson feels that those additions will have a big impact on the team going forward.
"I feel they're really good veteran players that have been playing on a top level for [a very long time]. It's really good additions to our team, and I feel like we have a little bit of a wider group now," Olofsson said. "I think we have more guys now that can put up some points, and I feel like we're going to be a better team, for sure, this year. Feels a little bit bigger and and a little bit heavier with those guys."
When it comes to where Olofsson will line up or who he will play with next season, he said there have been no discussions at this time as to how the four lines will look. However, Olofsson admitted on Friday that he does tend to think about the possibilities from time-to-time.
"It's always interesting to imagine the lines and see where you fit in. At the same time, you have to play with the guys and see if there's any chemistry there. You never know until you put the lines together," Olofsson said. "However we do it, I feel like our top-two lines are going to be really good, and I feel like we're going to get even more secondary scoring this year."
The man who will have that ultimate decision on how the lineup will look next season is head coach Ralph Krueger, who also spent his first full season with the Sabres last year. Not only did Olofsson enjoy Krueger giving him the chance to play on the Sabres' top line for a majority of this past season, but he also enjoyed lacing up the skates and taking the ice for him in Buffalo.
"I feel like I have a really good relationship with Ralph. He really likes to talk to the players and know what we think about everything. He's an unbelievable person, and probably one of the most positive human beings I've ever met. He's an unbelievable coach, I love playing for him, and I'm really excited to work with him in this upcoming year."
As for now, Olofsson remains in Sweden as he continues to ride out the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While he hopes that the upcoming season will get underway at some point, he's staying prepared, while also enjoying the good times with those closest to him.
"I'm just trying to stay in shape, and hopefully... we should get some answer soon here. [It's about being] ready and just be happy to be able to spend time with family and friends," Olofsson said. "Usually at this time of year, I don't really get to spend that much time with them. I'm just trying to look at it in a positive way and just enjoy life."
You can listen to the entire conference call below: