Olofsson believes the Sabers can bring last season’s success back

“We found a way to come out and enjoy it and play really good hockey,” Olofsson said. “When we’re at our best is when we don’t think too much, we just go out and play and have fun. You must do this for a full season.

Like the team, my biggest problem was staying at a high level for 82 games.

The Sabers were able to play at a high level for the final 28 games of last season, with the forward playing a big role.

Buffalo went 16-9-3 in that span after winning 16 of its first 54 (16-30-8). Olofsson had 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) and was a plus-6 over those last 28 games. He had 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) in 44 of the first 54 games.

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Olofsson, speaking during the NHL European Player Media Tour in August, said the Sabers played these last few games with ease instead of tension, that they didn’t let the pressure of a loss carry over into the next game. He talked about how they were consistently better and not letting failures linger.

“Big step,” he said. “I feel like the mentality has changed. We’ve played really good hockey and played against some of the best teams. If we can find a way to get to that level from the beginning of the season and find a way to be at that level we’re going to be a good team”.

The Sabers have struggled to stay at the top level for 11 straight seasons, the longest active streak in the NHL without reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Olofsson also has the past three seasons.

He had 42 points (20 goals, 22 assists) in 54 games as a rookie in 2019-20, but dropped to 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) in 56 games in 2020-21.

He got off to a fast start last season with nine points (five goals, four assists) in eight games in October, but hurt his wrist on Oct. 31, an injury that kept him out for eight games and hindered his ability to shoot when he returned on Nov. 21 .

Olofsson scored a goal in the game he injured his wrist, then didn’t score again until February 15, a 30 game streak without one.

“It was disappointing,” he said. “I started overthinking. It’s a long season and there are going to be injuries. I think I really learned from that last year.”

Olofsson, like the Sabres, is ready to carry those lessons into this season and hopes to pick up where he left off.

He signed a two-year, $9.5 million contract (average annual value of $4.75 million) on July 13, and the Sabers see the 27-year-old as a key part of their forward group, a player who can bridge the gap between NHL veterans such as . as Jeff Skinner30, and Kyle Okposo34, and up and coming players, incl Dylan Cozens21? Peyton Krebs21? Jack Quinn, 21; and JJ Peterka20.

“He’s still a younger player, but now he’s in the next division where he’s been in the League for a while, he’s got experience, but he’s still in his prime,” general manager Kevyn Adams said. “You look at some of our younger guys, they’re really talented players, but they’re just starting out, just finding their way, while Victor has more experience. We think Victor will be consistent from one game to the next. We know the team that we have and it’s nice to have her in your lineup every night.”

The optimism for Olofsson’s future is based on both his production in the second half of last season and the overall balanced game he displayed.

“He missed out on scoring mainly because he couldn’t shoot, so he had to figure out, ‘How can I focus on other things because I can’t play the game I want to play right now, even though I’m in uniform and ‘I’m in the lineup’ , Sabers coach Don Granato said. “I don’t want to say he reinvented himself, but he was forced to think about things differently and found a way to become successful by doing things differently.”

Like being more physically active.

“His production came back, but he was also 5-on-5 fighting really hard at the end of the year, playing more inside and really fighting for 50/50 pucks, winning his wall battles,” Adams said. “A lot of his career you could see the talent, his shooting, the power-play production, but it seemed like he really took a step.”

Olofsson’s teammates noticed.

“He was better at finding his way to the net and being a little bit greasier and a little bit dirtier,” defenseman Rasmus Dallin he said. “So he’s not just a power play guy anymore. He’s a really good hockey player.”

A potentially sneaky good guy on a team that could have as many as nine forwards around him who were first-round picks in the NHL draft.

Buffalo selected Olofsson in the seventh round (No. 181) of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

“He’s a big part of our atmosphere behind the scenes and he’s obviously a dangerous player in our lineup who can strike at any time,” Granato said. “We’ve seen him look like he’s in the background and the other team doesn’t have to pay attention to him and they feel a false sense of security at times. He has the ability to slip in there when you’re not looking out for him.”

NHL.com staff writer Amalie Benjamin and NHL.com freelance correspondent Heather Engel contributed to this report

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