Expectations for Jacob Olofsson were tempered from the time his name was called at the 2018 NHL Draft. The Swedish centre had spent a year with Timrå in HockeyAllsvenskan; a team that had earned a promotion to the SHL in the last game of the 2017-18 season.
There were knocks on his game, mostly that he was uneven in his performances and drifted in and out of games at times. Scouts thought he could look disinterested in some moments, and there were questions about his drive and character. After a year in the SHL, that has all changed for the better. His work ethic is no longer in question as he battles hard and reads the game well.
The main issue this year was that he had to anchor the third line of a team that was more or less tied to the bottom of the table since the first week of the season. It didn’t help that the defenders on his team were characterized by their poor mobility rather than strong transition and offensive games, something that meant that the offensive skill set that Olofsson was drafted for wasn’t often on display.
He was quarterbacking Timrå’s second power-play unit on the half-wall, with limited success,. It is clear that his points production was lacking at the higher level he played this season, with just nine points (3G, 6A) in 34 games.
Looking at the other side of the coin, it meant that he was often forced to play defence, and that aspect of his games has indeed improved.
However, Olofsson started the season with a tough injury that likely played a role in his tentative approach when he returned to the ice. His confidence was lacking, and that’s something that was evident during the World Junior Hockey Championship in British Columbia, which was a disappointment for the whole Swedish team.
The centreman has had his role changed a bit during the season. He got the chance to play in his preferred offensive role at the start, but his injury set him back, and when he returned a few weeks later, Timrå’s altered lines had been solidified. During the disappointing WJC, Olofsson was used by coach Tomas Montén in different situations and actually played on the wing. Late in the season, he was relied upon to do a heavy forecheck in the relegation round against Oskarshamn, using his big frame to pin down defenders in their own zone.
Unfortunately for Timrå, they lost Game 7 in that series, but none of that was the fault of Olofsson, who was one of the few players who stood up and delivered his best performance of the season when it mattered most. He was surrounded by players who seemed to feel the pressure of the challenge more than he did, and weren’t able to finish his passes the right way, and often weren’t even in the open area when the puck arrived from Olofsson’s stick.
Olofsson’s hockey IQ is good, and there is still room for improvement. His defensive game took a big leap forward this season despite some adversity and moving around the lineup. He was able to make adjustments and read the game well in his own end, and a more consistent work ethic helps to alleviate one of the concerns about him at the beginning of the year.
He also seems to have added weight to his frame, and that has enabled him to protect the puck better when it has been needed.
While he had a tough season with regard to injuries, two things stood out. His shot and his confidence were missing, and these may be intertwined. Being stuck on a third line with less-skilled linemates will have taken a toll on his effectiveness, but he also often failed to shoot the puck at times when he should have. There were a few occasions, especially on the power play, when he slowed the game down to look for a pass instead of letting loose with a well-placed shot like he would have done last season.
Overall, Olofsson has adjusted to a bigger, better, and faster league. While his production has been a disappointment, he has elevated his game in other areas, something that bodes well for his development after the much-rumoured, now-confirmed move to a better team: Skellefteå AIK.
While his role on the new team will be similar to his role this year — third-line duty and second power-play unit — Skellefteå is a team that drives play, and that should suit his vision and passing much better. It should be a move that plays to the strengths of the player.
It is a passing grade for Olofsson who has matured into a solid centre at a higher level. While progress could have been quicker, he was held back somewhat by his situation.
He gets a similar grade to the one that Joni Ikonen would have gotten last season. There is a lot of talent in Olofsson, and the question for next season is whether he can channel his own disappointment in the off-season and learn from it. He will need to step up his game on a team that will suit his natural play style much more when the new season starts in September.