Drafted in 2013 and signed to his entry-level contract just a year later, Gustav Olofsson has been in the Minnesota Wild system for a while now. Ever since Hockey Wilderness started our Top 25 Under 25 series, Olofsson has been in the top 15. He debuted at #12 in 2014, stayed there in 2015, moved up to #10 in 2016, and most recently settled as high as #6 just last year. As Wild fans, we have regularly thought that Olofsson might eventually be a regular in the Wild’s Top 6 defensemen. He might still accomplish this, but it didn’t happen this year and his opportunities will only start decreasing from here.
At the end of last season, I said Olofsson’s injury history may make it difficult for him to become a permanent fixture, but I hoped he was able to compete for a spot on Minnesota’s blueline instead of being stuck in Iowa. Even the comments at the time mostly praised him, and in September, Derek Lalonde, Head Coach of the Iowa Wild, had this to say about Olofsson, “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.” - Derek Lalonde
While Olofsson did spend the entire season with Minnesota, he only managed to play 41 games. Olofsson was often a healthy scratch throughout the season, as he seemingly couldn’t gain the confidence of the coaching staff. In late March, Olofsson suffered a concussion and he didn’t play another game for the rest of the season.
Why did he struggle to get into the lineup? Well, for a puck-moving defenseman, he often struggled to break out of the zone, and he wasn’t as physical as many wanted him to be. However, he was decent statistically. At even strength, he had a higher Corsi For % than Jonas Brodin and Nate Prosser and he was the Wild’s second best defenseman at limiting Scoring Chances Against per 60 minutes, behind only Jared Spurgeon. He only played 11 minutes on the penalty kill this season, but he did very well in that time, limiting shots against per 60 at a better pace than all of the regulars. Granted, he had significantly less ice time than most of the Wild defensemen at both 5v5 and the PK, but he generally performed well enough statistically in the time he was given.
It may be disappointing that Olofsson didn’t cement himself as a team regular this season, but it’s important to note that this is just his third (mostly) full professional season, since he missed his entire first season due to injury. As Olofsson continues to get older, he will continue to get better at avoiding big hits that could leave him injured and he will continue to improve his game. Depending on your expectations for him, Olofsson likely earned either a C+ or B- on the season.
However, the Wild’s younger defensemen from Iowa played well in their time in the big league. Olofsson will improve as he gets older, but he may not have the opportunity to improve with the Wild. Nick Seeler, Louis Belpedio, and Carson Soucy all should get looks to make the team out of training camp, not to mention any new defensemen newly minted GM Paul Fenton might bring in via trade or free agency. It’s possible Fenton will let Olofsson go this summer, and that might not be a bad decision for the team.
Thanks to Natural Stat Trick for all the stats used.