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Laval Rocket season review: Gustav Olofsson is a jack of all trades

Steady and reliable was the name of the game for the Swedish defender, but will it get him to the NHL level?

Club de hockey Canadien, Inc.

When Gustav Olofsson arrived in Montreal the previous summer he was still recovering from shoulder surgery. He made it through a game-and-a-half before re-injuring his shoulder and sitting out for the rest of the year. So, coming into the 2019-20 season, it was hard to get a gauge on just what Olofsson brought to the table for the Laval Rocket. This season went much better for the Swedish defender, as he stayed healthy for the full season and even got a short NHL look as well. Over the course of the season, Olofsson became Joël Bouchard’s “jack of all trades” piece on the back end, able to be deployed in multiple situations at any given time. His steadiness didn’t stand out in a big way like Xavier Ouellet’s point totals, or Karl Alzner’s shot blocking when defending a lead, but it helped keep a young Rocket team on course as the season wore on.

At first glance, Olofsson’s 16 points doesn’t seem like much, but when considering the roles he had to play, and the offensive struggles the Rocket endured as a whole, it paints a clearer picture. More often than not, Olofsson slotted in next to Ouellet on the top pairing, eating up heavy minutes in all three zones. With that came power-play and penalty-kill time for Olofsson, where his skating ability gave him the means to create chances that his teammates might not.

Unlike Ouellet, Olofsson’s game has never been about producing large amounts of goals, but instead, setting many of them up. However, that doesn’t mean he isn’t a useful piece. Despite having just one goal to his name, Olofsson put plenty of pucks on net for Laval, with his 104 shots trailing just Ouellet for defenders. Overall he was seventh on the team, behind the leaders in the forward group, which naturally only makes sense. In fact, this year was his best year for generating shots as a whole, and it fit right in with a Laval attack that often buried opposing teams on the shot counter.

Unlike Ouellet or Evan McEneny who utilized a booming slapshot to create their goals, Olofsson often opted for a quick snapshot when given shooting space. That helped his teammates to get a stick on the low, quick shots and re-direct them by goalies as a normal occurrence.

Though when given the chance, his skills as a playmaker can also shine through, especially when used in conjunction with his skating. Standing at 6’3’’ he can shield the puck well while driving the net, and then use his awareness to pick out a teammate for a pass.

His ability to work on his edges while fending off a defender, and at the same time using one hand to shovel a pass across the crease to Jake Evans, is likely one of the best set-up plays for the Rocket as a whole this year and serves as a solid showcase of what Olofsson looks like at his best.

Therein lies a large issue for Olofsson. He’s a solid contributor in an AHL role, but doesn’t stand out in any single area like some of his peers. That leaves him in a bit of no man’s land in terms of the Canadiens’ organization as a whole. In the pipeline, players like Alexander Romanov and Mattias Norlinder bring strong overall games at a young age, and already in the NHL are three established names in Ben Chiarot, Brett Kulak and Victor Mete, with Alzner also still lingering around too. That leaves him very little space to maneuver himself up to the NHL level, and at 25 years old, he’s likely hit the peak of his career.

That isn’t a bad thing. He’s a solid AHL player, and decent call up option in a pinch, but that might be his peak barring any chances. Those changes could happen if he stays healthy again next season as well. He bounced back after missing a huge chunk of time and performed well, which means he could just as easily take another step forward this year. The main issue is it might be too late for those steps to keep him ahead of the upcoming prospect classes in Montreal.

On the whole, Gustav Olofsson was exactly as advertised when he was acquired two years ago. Some offensive upside, not a liability in his own zone, and able to be deployed in plenty of different roles. He did just that, and more, for Bouchard depending on the state of the team due to injuries or call ups, but at the same time didn’t establish himself in a way that presents him as a serious contender for an NHL role in the future. That in and of itself is just fine. Olofsson is someone who can serve as a mentor and leader at the AHL level for younger players like Josh Brook and Cale Fleury. He isn’t overly flashy, but he gets the job done when needed, and with another year on his contract he’ll help keep Laval’s defensive core running whenever next season begins.