Victor Olofsson has missed the last 13 games. ©2020, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres rookie Victor Olofsson practices, nearing return from lower-body injury

BUFFALO – Sabres winger Victor Olofsson said he has never experienced anything like the lower-body injury that has sidelined him the last 13 games.

In his first seven years as a pro, the high-scoring Swede showcased terrific durability, never missing more than a couple weeks of action.

Then on Jan. 2 against the Edmonton Oilers, Olofsson’s left skate got caught in the ice, causing him to fall backwards.

“It was unfortunate, no one around me, just kind of got stuck with my left skate and fell,” Olofsson said after returning to practice Saturday. “It happens. I’ve been trying to stay positive. I’ve been working very hard to come back here.”

But don’t expect to see Olofsson play this afternoon against the Anaheim Ducks at KeyBank Center or later this week. Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said Olofsson needs “a week or more” before he returns, meaning he could miss at least another four games.

“It’s just getting his mind space into what he needs to do,” Krueger said. “I mean, you go from the lack of speed in your existence on a day-to-day basis to the National Hockey League speed, which is going to come back at him.

“So I think it was good for him to be in the drills today and, again, physically, we still see we need to be patient on this one.”

When Olofsson was injured, the Sabres said he would be out five or six weeks, so his first practice and Krueger’s words match their original time line.

“Still taking it pretty slow,” Olofsson said. “But it gets a lot better every day.”

Olofsson called practicing again “a huge step.”

“It’s not quite there yet, but it was nice to kind of get out there and get the feel of the game again,” he said.

The Sabres sorely need Olofsson, one of the NHL’s top rookies. They’ve compiled a lackluster 6-6-1 record without him.

Sabres winger Jimmy Vesey has recently played well in Olofsson’s spot at left wing beside top center Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, scoring two goals in the last two contests. But Krueger tried a slew of replacements before finding any success.

Olofsson quickly morphed into one of the NHL’s top rookies, scoring six goals in the first seven games and establishing himself as a Calder Trophy candidate. Overall, he has compiled 16 goals and 35 points in 42 outings.

Despite missing five weeks, Olofsson ranked second among rookies in goals entering Saturday’s games, trailing only Chicago Blackhawks winger Dominik Kubalik, who has scored 21 times in 52 contests. Olofsson ranked third among first-year players in points.

“Honestly, I haven’t really been paying much attention to that,” Olofsson said of the goal-scoring race. “Right now, I’m just looking forward to getting back. I just want to play hockey right now.”

Olofsson said he started skating a few weeks ago. Naturally, when he watches the Sabres play, he said he gets “really eager to get back into it.”

His presence, especially on the power play, where he has utilized his lethal shot from the circles, likely would’ve translated to more victories.

The Sabres have scored just one goal four times during his absence.

Krueger believes Olofsson can benefit from the break in his season and the opportunity to watch games from a different perspective.

“He’s been able to do some reflection and some more mental growth,” Krueger said. “I … think it’s going to take him even to another level of maturity, having a bit of a pause in a season which was truly rookie of the year, NHL-caliber.

“We’re confident he can get back to that level, but even with a higher feeling of confidence, having looked at the game from the outside now.”

Vesey has certainly generated more confidence playing beside Eichel and Reinhart.

“When you play with them, you have to understand you’re going to go up against top lines in the league, you’re going to play 20 minutes and it’s a grind in both directions,” Krueger said. “I think Jimmy’s really taken on that side of the responsibility with them.”

Vesey’s goal in Friday’s 3-2 road win against the New York Rangers, his old team, was especially satisfying.

In his first visit back Oct. 24, he was injured in the Sabres’ 6-2 loss.

“It was a good feeling it made it 3-0,” he said, “but I thought it was a big goal in that game, just get that extra cushion, and it turned out to be the game winner.”

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