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Victor Olofsson solidifies himself as one of Sabres' top prospects

Longtime Sabres beat writer Bill Hoppe of BuffaloHockeyBeat.com, will be writing about Sabres prospects, the Rochester Americans and related topics this season.

ROCHESTER – Things have a way of evening out in hockey. So when Sabres prospect Victor Olofsson scored five goals in his first six American Hockey League games with the Americans, few expected he would continue that torrid production.

“Sometimes it’s hard to keep that pace up,” Olofsson said last week.

But Olofsson, 23, roared into November. By the 11-game mark, the Swedish winger compiled six goals and 14 points. He even briefly led the AHL in scoring.

“I felt like I was getting that extra bounce,” said Olofsson, whose 27 goals led the Swedish Hockey League last season.

That extra bounce hasn’t materialized as much recently. Opponents have started paying closer attention to Olofsson, who possesses a lethal shot. He’s also still adjusting to having less time and space to operate on the smaller North American ice surface.

“(He) has slowed in production somewhat due to people keying on him plus the adjustment phase,” a pro scout who has watched Olofsson regularly this season said.

Olofsson has an eight-game goal drought and just two scores in the last 14 contests.

Of course, with 10 goals and 30 points overall, Olofsson’s first AHL campaign has been stellar. He recorded six assists in four games before going pointless over the weekend.

Through 33 outings, Olofsson has solidified his place as one of the Sabres’ top prospects.

“He’s a big-time player,” Amerks coach Chris Taylor said. “He wants to have the puck on his stick.”

Olofsson, a seventh-round pick in 2014, 181st overall, seems destined to be recalled in the future. So far, the Sabres have only summoned one forward, C.J. Smith, from the Amerks this season.

“(Olofsson) has NHL shooting ability and NHL speed and quickness,” said the scout, who believes Olofsson will play in the big leagues someday and provide scoring.

The scout also said Olofsson might need to spend a full season developing in the AHL and part of next season before he’s ready.

“That’s the dream I have and the next step in my career to be up there,” Olofsson said of the NHL. “That’s what I’m working for. I’m trying to be patient. Hopefully the chance will come eventually.”

The 5-foot-11, 181-pound Olofsson said he has grown throughout his first three months in the AHL. He said he believes he’s getting on the inside more regularly and moving to the front of the net, where he can score what he called “greasy goals.”

Naturally, Olofsson said he wants to be an all-around guy “the team can trust.” Early in Wednesday’s victory, he illustrated that by racing from behind on a backcheck to stymie a play.

“I want to play in every situation out there, and that’s the kind of thing you have to do,” Olofsson said. “If it’s break up a play or just get back to help out in the defense zone, it’s the small things that matter in the long run.”

Taylor said Olofsson has embraced playing away from the puck.

“It’s hard for goal scorers to come over and learn that and think, ‘Well, I have to score goals,’ ” Taylor said. “And you have to play away from the puck, defensive side of the puck, you have to be good on the walls, you got to hold up on faceoffs, and he’s doing all those things. He’s getting better at them, and that’s all we can only ask for.”

Nylander update

Sabres prospect Alexander Nylander quickly impacted the Amerks after an upper-body injury sidelined him two games.

On Wednesday, Nylander slickly created Rasmus Asplund’s tying goal with 11.9 seconds left by finding the center beside the net from the point.

The winger sold the shot perfectly.

“The hockey sense on Alex, even to sell it, have two guys lay there (on the ice), to look for a player on the side of the net,” Taylor said.

Nylander scored a goal and the shootout winner in Friday’s 3-2 road win over the Laval Rocket.

MacWilliam tallies

On Wednesday, Amerks defenseman Andrew MacWilliam scored his first goal in 149 games, jamming in a rebound at the net to tie the game at 3.

MacWilliam hadn’t scored since April 6, 2016, with the Manitoba Moose.

The veteran was credited with a goal earlier this season before it was awarded to a teammate.

They can’t take this one back, right?

“Who knows?” a smiling MacWilliam said.

Taylor said MacWilliam has “a huge heart.”

“It was a desperate play by him and … you respect guys like that,” Taylor said.

MacWilliam has scored five goals in 336 career AHL appearances.

Closing in

Zach Redmond scored his career-high 16th goal in Saturday’s 2-1 loss in Laval, leaving him two short of Rick Pagnutti’s single-season record for Amerks defensemen set in 1972-73.

 

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