BUFFALO – In the same spot five months earlier, as winger Victor Olofsson talked about his late-season benching, it felt like he had played his last game for the Sabres.
But a trade never materialized, and as he sat at his locker in the dressing room following Monday’s session of training camp, Olofsson, 28, spoke optimistically of the upcoming season.
“I’m super happy to be back,” said Olofsson, whose Sabres host the Boston Bruins tonight in a preseason game at KeyBank Center. “I’m super excited.”
Did the Swede leave town following last season thinking had played his last game for the Sabres?
“Anything can happen,” he said. “So that was definitely a possibility.”
While general manager Kevyn Adams acknowledged early in the summer he was exploring the trade market for Olofsson, dealing him made little sense after winger Jack Quinn tore his Achilles tendon during an offseason workout.
Having lost Quinn until at least late December, the Sabres need Olofsson’s offensive production. He might be expected to play a top-six role this year.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed. The Sabres have some high-end prospects – Jiri Kulich, Isak Rosen and Matt Savoie – pushing for spots up front.
Olofsson, who has one year left on his contract, just experienced one of the oddest seasons by a Sabres forward in recent memory. He scored a career-high 28 goals in 2022-23 but sat out five critical late-season games as a healthy scratch.
In scoring 21 even-strength goals, two more than he had in the previous two years combined, he proved he’s more than a one-dimensional power-play threat who possesses a lethal shot.
Still, he registered an awful minus-23 rating, the worst number among the team’s forwards. He also battled offensive slumps, sometimes going weeks without scoring.
“I was in a couple tough situations and new situations for me,” he said. “So I really think I grew from that and learned a lot from being on the sidelines. I also had a career year in goals. It’s easy sometimes to just focus on the bad things and the tougher things. But I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished there last year and just gonna take that with me and build on that.”
The knock on the 5-foot-11, 182-pound Olofsson has long been he’s a defensive liability who’s not hard enough on opponents.
Olofsson understands he must morph into a sturdier two-way threat. Offense, he has learned, can be generated from strong defense.
“I feel like a lot of times when I play solid all over the ice, that kind of leads to more offense,” he said. “So it’s honestly just focus and hard work and usually the skill comes after that.”
Sabres coach Don Granato believes Olofsson can evolve.
“He is working on recognizing situations to be different in (and) to adjust his style of play or his game to the situation,” he said.
Granato said having an entire summer to process his season and develop hindsight will help Olofsson.
“The growth we’re going to see this year,” he said. “But he fought hard. When you’re in it, it’s hard to back out of it until the season ends.”
He added: “Victor had a lot of challenges last year, as everybody did, and I think he’s smart enough to figure out how they’re going to make him better this year.”
Adams said Olofsson “loves it here.”
“He’s a very talented player,” he said. “But I think what gives me comfort is he’s a guy that comes to the rink and wants to get better. And that, to me, I think is the biggest reason why, I think, when players go through adversity, and then they can take a step back and look at it, say, ‘OK.’ Not, ‘Whoa is me,’ but, ‘What was the coach thinking?’ and, ‘How do I do my part to become even more of a contributor on this team?’ …
“I gave him my word at the end of the season, ‘Hey, I’m going to look in the offseason and I have to do what’s best for the Buffalo Sabres. But I also understand where you’re at in your career.’ But ultimately, he wants to be here and he’s here. We all know what he can do on the ice. Now it’s just a matter of we’re making sure we’re putting him in a position to have success.”