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European Prospect Report: Jacob Olofsson on playing against Mattias Norlinder and his transition to the wing

The Montreal Canadiens’ two SHL prospects went head-to-head again last week, and Olofsson offers a report on the speedy defenceman.

Tommy Holl TT

Jacob Olofsson, Skellefteå AIK, SHL, Sweden

Slowly but steadily, Olofsson is getting more and more minutes. He looks more comfortable as a winger for every game he plays. He sometimes ends up a bit too low, or too high in his defensive work, and that is where it is easiest to see that the transition to wing hasn’t been as smooth as one might have expected. None of the goals he was on the ice for this week were his fault. Defensive breakdowns between the defenders were at fault.

Olofsson was very honest when he offered his own assessment to Eyes On The Prize.

“I feel both stronger and faster on the ice this season.” His transition to the wing hasn’t been easy, but he is making it work. “I am comfortable as a winger — I get to play more offensively — but I prefer to play in the middle, I want to have more of the puck and to use my speed in the centre of the ice.”

The added muscle has really benefited him along the boards. “I weigh in at 90 to 91 kg, and I want to stay around that weight in order to not get too heavy and slow.”

Catching up with Stefan Hedlund, one part of the Skellefteå coaching troika, he told us that “[Olofsson] is lacking time on special teams at the moment. I am sure he will get an opportunity to play on special teams sooner rather than later.”

“It is tough at the moment,” Olofsson says when we discuss his lack of special-teams play and the lack of points. “However, I feel that I am playing at a high level, so my thought process is to practise even harder, and then I will create my own break.”

Having faced another Montreal Canadiens prospect, Mattias Norlinder, twice already this season, he also had some interesting thoughts about the defenceman.

“He is incredibly smart and skilled with the puck. He is fearless, and it is really difficult to read him [in order to defend against him]. Really, he is already one of Frölunda’s best defenders!”

Mattias Norlinder, Frölunda, SHL, Sweden

Coach Roger Rönnberg obviously trusts Norlinder, who has risen to become the third-most-used player in Frölunda at the moment. Being on the first power-play unit certainly helps. Unfortunately for both Norlinder and Frölunda, the power play hasn’t worked. While the partnership of Norlinder and Lucas Raymond is showing promising signs, the two youngsters lack the experience to quarterback a power play at this level.

As the power play has failed to produced, the urgency has set in and it has led to a few miscues when Norlinder has rushed his shot or hasn’t been set up properly for it and lost his balance after letting loose.

Interestingly, he has been able to join the cycle in the offensive zone much more this week than before. He has positioned himself higher up in the attacking zone and ends up closer to the net. He has been able to create havoc with small movements and direction changes, but the results of goals and assists haven’t come just yet. It seems that the coaching staff has pushed Norlinder to use his offensive game more.

A few draw parallels with a young P.K. Subban, and there are areas where Norlinder really looks like the old fan favourite. The two seasons under Mr. Rönnberg and Mr. Kristoffer Näslund should strengthen Norlinder’s already good defensive acumen, and prepare him for the NHL in the best way possible.

Lukas Vejdemo, Södertälje SK [Loan], HockeyAllsvenskan, Sweden

With Södertälje needing a win, Lukas Vejdemo stepped up big time, scoring two goals in the first period against Tingsryd. Those were his first two goals since his return to Sweden.

It was important for him to open up his scoring account in the Swedish second division, partly for his own confidence, but also to show that he really is too good for the league itself.

Vejdemo’s limited success so far (he is still fifth in scoring on his team) is down to a struggling Södertälje that hasn’t managed to gel properly at the start of the season. It showed in the Tingsryd game again, as it got close in the end even if Södertälje was up both 2-0 and 3-1 as the game finished 3-2.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Ässät [Loan], Liiga, Finland

All fans of the Canadiens became fans of the Finnish club Ässät (translation: the Ace) overnight when it was announced that Kotkaniemi would go back to his parent club and play in Liiga until the NHL season starts.

Many, including myself, thought that Kotkaniemi would make his debut for the Pori club this weekend, but the loan agreement starts today (Monday) and it looks like Kotkaniemi will make his Liiga return on the road to top team Tappara (translation: the Battle Axe) on Thursday.

Jesse Ylönen, Pelicans [Loan], Liiga, Finland

The Pelicans have stugled again and are located just below the play-in positions in 11th place. With the team struggling, Ylönen has been moved around in the lineup and had varied ice time last week.

While the Pelicans have added Ryan Lasch, it still trails many of the other Finnish clubs in the arms race for Liiga domination, and it has left the team from Lahti more or less in the same situation as last year, whereas most thought that they would improve. It’s a tough situation for Ylönen, but he is getting competitive ice time and it will benefit him when the North American season picks up.

Otto Leskinen, KalPa [Loan], Liiga, Finland

One player who had a decent weekend was Otto Leskinen, who had two assists in KalPa’s surprising win against Kärpät.

One was a great outlet pass that sprung his teammate at the offensive blue line.

The second came on the power play, where Leskinen ruled the blue line and let it rip with a nice shot that initially looked to have gone straight in. Later it was deemed that Räsänen tipped the puck past the goalie.

Alexander Gordin, SKA-1946 Saint Petersburg, MHL, Russia

The Russian is a shot machine, shooting whenever he gets the chance and especially on the power play. Last week he had a hat trick in the second game against Primorsky Krai in the far eastern part of Russia. In the first game of the double-header he had no points, but five shots.

It is clear that Gordin is too good for the Junior league, but it remains to be seen if he gets a chance to play in the VHL, which is the next step up. With the COVID-19 problems that Russian teams are dealing with, it is almost certain that he will get more chances with SKA than the one game that he has played so far.

Jan Myšák, HC Litvinov, Extraliga, Czech Republic

With the Extraliga on lockdown due to COVID-19, there were no games for Myšák this week.

Joni Ikonen, Ilves, Liiga Finland

Injured; expected return in 6-8 weeks.