When it was the Montreal Canadiens’ turn to make the 56th selection in the 2018 NHL Draft, and Jacob Olofsson was still available, it was not a tough decision for Marc Bergevin and Trevor Timmins. He was their player; a big centre who had already played a year of professional hockey and had a strong defensive game.
The fact that Olofsson, who was projected as an early second-rounder, was still around might be surprising. With a projection of a third-line NHL centre as his floor, you can make the case that he should have been even higher in this series.
However, while he played professionally in Sweden’s second division and was a major part of his team, Timrå, earning a promotion to the SHL, he underperformed at the Under-18 World Championship, where Sweden came home with a bronze medal.
The fact that Olofsson came from a tough promotion series — and from 3-1 down — to earn promotion in Game 7, you’d have to assume that fatigue was part of the reason for his performance at the U-18s. After all, he played more than 70 games last season; a lot for an 18-year-old considering most of them were against players older than him. Most likely, the international tournament was part of the reason that Olofsson fell to Montreal late in the second round.
The centreman from the nothernmost county in Sweden was awarded the “Golden Cage” as the best junior player in Allsvenskan after the season. Previous winners include Filip Forsberg, William Karlsson, and Jonathan Dahlén, but it should not be considered a sure thing for success at the NHL level as players such as Robin Kovac and Lukas Bengtsson have won the award too, though a personal tragedy and an illness, respectively, worked to derail their careers.
There is a lot to like about Olofsson and his play. He averaged 0.48 points per game in Allsvenskan — better than Filip Forsberg, Jesper Bratt, and Jacob de la Rose in their draft years.
The 6’2” centre was trusted to handle heavy minutes against tough opposition and still came out on top. He makes moves with his stick both in close quarters and open ice, and he uses that stickhandling to move down the ice to spring his fellow forwards on counter-attacks. His hockey IQ allows him to find angles that the defenders aren’t covering.
He’s often given the moniker “checking-line centre,” and while it is stereotyping Olofsson’s game, it is also not wrong per se, but “counter-punch centre” might be a better way to describe him. His upside is much more than that of simply a checker; he is more offensive minded than the typical defensive specialist.
His touch and deft hands make him ideal to run the power play, especially with the quality of his quick, short passes that are needed to catch the penalty-killing unit on the back foot.
Olofsson was one of the toughest new prospects to rank for the panel. He received votes as high as 10 and as low as 35. The community ranked Olofsson at 16th, which was one of the highest places he was given on any ballot.
What stands out about him is his hockey IQ. It makes him a good option for the penalty kill, and you rarely, if ever, catch him out of position. This was apparent in the stats last year: with Olofsson on the ice, Timrå scored 62% of the goals.
Looking at the pre-draft chart from Jeremy Davis above, Olofsson looks like a steal at 56th to say the least. He can certainly drive play, something that is evident in the fact that the majority of his points are primary, and came at even strength. As you can see in the diagram, Allsvenskan ranks quite high in the league comparison, and that gives an idea that Olofsson should be able to continue scoring at a higher level.
In many ways, he is the classic Swedish centre. He backchecks willingly and is happy to engage his opponent. He reads the game well and is quick to understand where the puck is going and where he should be positioned when it gets there.
Olofsson needs to be more selfish, trusting himself in the offensive zone a lot more. It’s something head coach Fredrik Andersson says will come with more confidence.
His shot, while accurate and disguised, needs a bit more weight and speed on it. This is still something that he should be able to work on as he builds up muscle.
Despite all his talents, he has a tendency to disappear for long stretches in games, so he needs to be more consistent. He has an engine, but he needs to use it more effectively to reach the NHL. It was evident that the long season took its toll, and he needs to increase his stamina as he approaches a new season, with even more games against better players, and more eyes upon him.
Many scouting services had Olofsson’s floor as a third-line centre. His own coach, a former scout for the Buffalo Sabres, sees his ceiling as a second-liner.
What is interesting is the untapped offensive potential that he seems to possess, but has yet to come to the fore with regularity. If he can shift some of the focus from his defensive game to the offensive side, there could be a faster development than expected.
His success in Allsvenskan will be tough to replicate in the SHL this upcoming season, partly due to the fact that it is a step up quality wise, but also because while Timrå was a top team in Allsvenskan, they will be a team most certainly fighting for survival in the top tier.
With Dahlén leaving for the Vancouver Canucks, a spot has opened up higher in the lineup, and it should be up to Olofsson to grab it with both hands and hold on to develop his game to a level expected of an SHL centre.
It is clear that he is the kind of player who will reach the NHL later rather than sooner. He has all the tools in the box, it’s just a matter of being allowed to develop at his own pace. With the Canadiens having stockpiled centres in the draft, the team can certainly afford to let Olofsson build his confidence and develop properly.