It’s going to be an interesting training camp and start to the 2017-18 for Gustav Olofsson, who is reportedly battling with former defensive partner, Mike Reilly, for that sixth defensive spot with Free Agent-signee, Kyle Quincy. This summer, both Olofsson and Reilly earned two-year deals with a minimal cap hit to prove themselves worthy of minutes on an NHL blueline with Minnesota.
Since signing his ELC back in the summer of 2014, the Swedish d-man has only played in two “full” professional seasons against a slew of injuries. He missed all but one game in 2014-15. The same shoulder required surgery the next season, cutting short his All-Star-caliber year to 52 games. Last year at Traverse City, he sprained his MCL but was able to return for Iowa’s opening night; he scored Iowa’s only goal in a 3-1 loss to Manitoba.
In other words, this past summer was the first one he’s spent healthy in a long time.
He’s been praised for his all-around style of game and his command of the blueline at the developmental stage, but questions regarding his durability linger: can be play those tough minutes? Either way, he’s our sixth best guy under 25 and aiming for a steady dose of playing time with Minnesota this season.
Age: 22 (1. December, 1994)
Height/Weight: 6’3” (191 cm)/ 196 lbs (89 kg)
Contract Status: First year of a two-year deal ($725k AAV; RFA, Summer 2019)
Last Team: Iowa Wild
In his second full season in the Wild organization, Olofsson saw an increase in his time with Minnesota (13 GP) and expansion of his responsibilities with Iowa in Lalonde’s defensive-driven system. If you bought a ticket to Wells Fargo at the end of last year, you were seeing a steady defensive pairing of Olofsson and Reilly, both left-handed shots. Both are also expected to compete for the spot with Kyle Quincy or the press box.
For Iowa, Olofsson was the fire to Mike Reilly’s flash, with his game geared more towards the back half of his noted “all-around” style. He produced 24 points (6G/18A) in 59 games to Reilly’s 30 (5G/25A) in 57. In his 120 game haul in the A, he only totaled 42 points of offense (0.35 PPG). The offense may not appealing, but the trend of Iowa struggling to generate offense should be a given by now. In turning to Point Shares, Olofsson was one of the better players with 1.30 of the offensive total.
What he offers up for consideration is his strong skating ability, blueline awareness by keeping pucks in the offensive zone, and a desire to block shots; all qualities you’re going to want on that third pairing. His ability to move the puck and maintain possession provides tremendous upside for his offensive game.
In his thirteen-game trial run with Minnesota last season, he blocked 18 shots and had a multi-point game against Detroit with two assists. However, he finished that particular night even in plus/minus and saw a four minute dip in his TOI the next game.
Compared to Reilly, Olofsson looks to have the defensive qualities to take that spot next to Quincy as a maintenance man. Even with Reilly generating more on offense, Olofsson takes care of the puck with only one giveaway in thirteen games to Reilly’s six last year; Prosser for scale: 10 pucks given up in 39 games.
What might make the biggest difference for him is his durability. He has imposing stature, but 6’3” means very little when there is no meat hanging on it. However, Coach Lalonde made it clear that Olofsson has changed his game over the years to help preserve the body and maybe those same improvements were what led him to being healthy in Summer 2017.
It’s rare, but it happens. When Coach Lalonde was given the reigns to Iowa, he was reunited with Olofsson, who had played 63 games on the blueline for Newsy back in 2012-13. When asked about what was the biggest difference in Gustav’s game from juniors to now, Lalonde replied that it was:
“His ability to learn how to not take a hit. I appreciate him younger in his career, he would hang in there to take a hit and make a play, but he was finding out that he was having trouble staying healthy.
Without a doubt, this is a major improvement to Olofsson’s mental game given his medical sheet that is as pronounced as the scars that the surgeries have left on his body. With this new found discipline of using skill over the body, Coach feels that Olofsson has come a long way and is ready to go futher:
“I think he’s ready. I think the fact he’s had a full year of pro hockey [...] he improved and first full summer of being healthy. I think he’ll make the big team and hopefully have an impact for them.” He continued, “I know what little [Bruce and his staff] saw of him last year, they were happy. Now it’s up to him to take that next step.”
Almost needless to say, Lalonde doesn’t expect to see Olofsson playing in Des Moines again as a member of the Wild organization. Because of the skill and his age, he’d be a sure snag off the waiver wire.
In the Hockey Wilderness pool, nearly 50% of our staff voted him to the #6 position while his lowest ranking was #9. In other words, he has a lot of expectations from this site to match what Minnesota is asking of him in 2017-18.
I wonder who he is more concerned about?
He’s been an All-Star down at the AHL level, something Alex Tuch had the honor of last season. He’s won a league title in the USHL. He stuck around to be a part Iowa’s 27 point turnaround, an AHL best last year. Now he gets the opportunity to prove he can defend and produce at the NHL level.