Victor Olofsson played six games with the Sabres last season. ©2019, Hickling Images

Maturity, commitment to defense helps Sabres’ Victor Olofsson earn roster spot

BUFFALO – Everyone can see Victor Olofsson’s dynamic ability to shoot the puck has helped him develop into an elite goal scorer.

The quick release. The accuracy and speed.

Few players can unleash the puck like the 24-year-old Sabres rookie.

“He’s a pure goal scorer,” Sabres captain Jack Eichel said following Tuesday’s practice inside KeyBank Center.

Olofsson’s lethal shot has helped him morph from an unknown seventh-round pick into a first-line NHL winger.

Still, a terrific shot could only take him so far. The Swede’s willingness to evolve into “what North America needs,” according to Sabres coach Ralph Krueger, helped him earn a roster spot.

“He’s very responsible without the puck,” Krueger said, “but he’s also responsible with it and just shows a maturity there that allows him to play on a top line.

“We all see his shooting ability, we all know the scoring threat. But as coaches, we’re extremely excited about what he does away from the puck and how smart he works on that side.”

Technically, the 5-foot-11, 183-pound Olofsson isn’t on the big league roster right now.

In what are almost certainly paper transactions, the Sabres sent Olofsson and defenseman Henri Jokiharju to the Rochester Americans on Tuesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, they recalled forwards Jean-Sebastien Dea and Curtis Lazar and defenseman Lawrence Pilut from the AHL.

The moves – the Sabres also placed four players on injured reserve – will help them get under the NHL’s $81.5 million salary cap.

Teams had to finalize their regular-season roster by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Expect the Sabres to summon Olofsson and Jokiharju prior to Thursday’s season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Krueger said the 22 players who participated in Tuesday’s practice would comprise the Sabres’ opening-night roster.

Olofsson skated on the top line beside Eichel and Sam Reinhart.

While Olofsson looked like a lock to make the Sabres for weeks, he said he “was a little bit nervous” about his roster status.

“This was my goal coming into this season, my short-term goal,” Olofsson said before the Sabres announced Tuesday’s moves. “I’m very happy I made the team. I’m going to continue to play my game.”

Having played four years in the Swedish Hockey League – his 27 goals topped the circuit two years ago – Olofsson’s game features maturity.

Clearly, it helped him quickly adapt to new style of hockey last season, when he scored 30 goals with the Amerks and two more during a six-game look from the Sabres.

“It was really important for me,” Olofsson said of his late-season promotion. “I knew what to expect coming into camp this year and I felt like it helped me to be a lot more calm and confident.”

The best offense is often a strong defense, and his willingness to embrace that side of the game helped him become one of the AHL’s top scorers.

“I feel like my game without the puck has been a lot better,” Olofsson said of his growth over the last year.

If Olofsson remains on a scoring line and plays on the power play, he could provide some much-needed secondary scoring. Twenty goals certainly seems attainable.

“I feel like I’ve been improving a lot from the start of last year, over the last season,” Olofsson said. “(I) Kind of picked up where I left off. I feel like my overall game is pretty good right now, but I still need to work on everything, especially my defensive play.

“I feel confident all over the ice.”

On Tuesday, the Sabres’ second line featured center Marcus Johansson flanked by 40-goal scorer Jeff Skinner on the left and Vladimir Sobotka.

Sobotka struggled offensively last season, scoring only five goals in 69 games. But his ability to play center and win faceoffs should help Johansson, a winger the Sabres have moved back to center.

Sobotka wasn’t even guaranteed a roster spot a few weeks ago.

“He’s evolved through camp, starting not so sure about where his place was in the group to then being started at wing and center, playing power play one game and penalty killing most of the rest,” Krueger said. “I think that he feels his versatility is a huge asset for us.”

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