As the Sabres await the arrival of newly acquired forward Michael Frolik, coach Ralph Krueger will have to decide how he's going to adjust to losing another top offensive player.
Victor Olofsson, who leads all National Hockey League rookies in goals (16) and points (35), will miss the next five to six weeks with a lower-body injury suffered Thursday night during a 3-2 overtime win over the Edmonton Oilers in KeyBank Center.
Olofsson, 24, passed the puck to Sam Reinhart on what became the tying goal in the third period and immediately fell backwards when the blade of his left skate got stuck in a divot on the ice. The Sabres recalled forward Scott Wilson from Rochester ahead of a brief practice Friday, however, it's unclear who will be responsible for filling the void on the team's top forward line Saturday against the Florida Panthers.
The Sabres already were without forwards Tage Thompson, Vladimir Sobotka and Jeff Skinner, who is out three to four weeks with an upper-body injury suffered Dec. 27 against the Boston Bruins.
"It’s what coaches need to do, is you look at what you have and not what you don’t have," Krueger said of losing Olofsson. "You just work with that group and that’s what experience does for that part of your brain. There’s no room for emotion in this situation.
"You need to put the best possible group together to compete against Florida tomorrow and deal with Victor as a separate issue until he returns, and he will be gone for a few weeks now. We know that for sure and, of course, he has been a very important catalyst to the good things that are happening here in the team and we need to fill that hole. … It’s definitely a challenging situation, but we’ll pull together and fill that hole."
Krueger does not have a ready-made replacement for Olofsson, who ignited the Sabres' power play during their 9-2-2 October and formed instant chemistry with Reinhart and Jack Eichel. Olofsson finished Thursday with 15 points, including six goals, in his last 15 games.
Olofsson's possible replacement, at least against the Panthers, could be his former linemate in Rochester, Rasmus Asplund. Asplund, 22, skated with Reinhart and Eichel for the duration of the third period against the Oilers and finished with zero shots on goal in 13:15 of ice time. Asplund, who has played in 24 consecutive games since being recalled from the Amerks in November, logged fewer than 10 minutes in each of the Sabres' previous five games.
Krueger explained to reporters following practice Friday that he wants a responsible two-way player such as Asplund to skate alongside Eichel and Reinhart since that could give the Sabres' top-two active goal scorers more freedom on the ice.
"There’s a defensive component to that position," Krueger said of Asplund. "Releasing Jack and Sam with the confidence that who's playing with them is going to cover, too, and they cover for each other. What we’re seeing in Asplund’s game is that two-way awareness and the ability, very quickly, to also involve himself in the offense. He’s still growing daily in front of our eyes here, but we really enjoyed seeing what we did in the end stretch of the game yesterday with him."
Asplund has one goal among three points with the Sabres after starting the season in Rochester. He had 11 goals among 49 points in his first 88 regular-season games with the Amerks dating back to the start of 2018-19.
There will be lineup mystery leading up to the 1 p.m. puck drop Saturday. Krueger threw together make-shift forward lines in practice Friday since Eichel was given the day off, and the Sabres won't hold a morning skate ahead of their game against the Panthers. They didn't practice special teams.
The Sabres must find a power-play replacement for Olofsson, who has 14 points on the man advantage. Krueger turned to Rasmus Ristolainen as a net-front presence on the top power-play unit Thursday night.
The Sabres' power play ranks 30th out of 31 NHL teams since Nov. 1 and is amid an 0-for-16 slump over its past six games. Entering Thursday, Olofsson's goal and point totals had him on pace for the best offensive season by a Sabres rookie in decades. He was on pace for the most goals by a Sabres rookie since Ray Sheppard's 38 in 1987-88 and the third-most points in franchise history, trailing only Rick Martin (74 in 1971-72) and Gilbert Perreault (72 on 1970-71).
Wingers Jimmy Vesey and Conor Sheary could be candidates to replace Olofsson, as well as Frolik, who has 158 regular-season goals during his 12-year NHL career. Frolik, a 31-year-old acquired from the Calgary Flames on Thursday night, may not arrive until early next week as he works through the visa process.
For now, the first audition likely will go to Asplund.
"I know I can bring a lot of offensive points to this league," Asplund said. "I just need to find my path there. That’s what I’m trying to figure out."