Jacob Olofsson had a tough season with both Timrå IK in the SHL and Team Sweden in the World Junior Championship. He was injured early, struggled in the WJC while being used in every role except the goaltending position, and in the end Timrå was relegated from the SHL, losing the playoffs against underdogs Oskarshamn. Still, the Montreal Canadiens’ 56th overall selection in the 2018 NHL Draft sits comfortably inside the Top 25 Under 25 this summer.
After the season, Olofsson signed a two-year contract with a team that is building for a deep playoff push, Skellefteå AIK. While he will have the same role as in Timrå — third-line centre — Skellefteå thrives on controlling play, which should further Olofsson’s development.
Birthplace: Piteå, Sweden
Date of birth: February 8, 2000
Weight: 196 lbs.
Team: Skellefteå AIK (SHL)
The big centre used his year as a trainee in the SHL to get better, especially on the defensive side. His reads and positioning are much better compared to a year ago.
At the opposite end, Olofsson only scored nine points (3G, 6A) during his 39-game season with Timrå. This was partly down to to his head injury that he sustained in September that caused him to lose his position on a more offensive line, but the fact that he played on a team that was anchored to the bottom of the standings certainly didn’t help.
As seen in the table below, Olofsson’s season wasn’t as bad as it could be perceived at a glance. Playing on what would be considered a defensive line with tough assignments, his relative numbers weren’t bad for a first-year centre in the SHL.
Olofsson’s hockey IQ makes him a versatile player, and Sweden’s Under-20 Coach, Tomas Montén, used that skill to play him as a defender during the WJC when Sweden had problems with their defensive lines. It is easy to look to the other successful players that Montreal had in the tournament (Alexander Romanov, Josh Brook, Ryan Poehling, and Jesse Ylönen to mention a few) and look at Olofsson’s championship as a failure, but with Sweden underachieving as a whole, little of the blame should be put on Olofsson’s shoulders.
In last week’s World Junior Summer Showcase ahead of the 2020 WJC, Olofsson was used to centre the terrors of Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz, as the all-out offensive players needed someone with defensive skills to cover for them.
Olofsson got votes as low as 30 and as high as 13. The main group, including the EOTP community, have him around spot 20. The four players in this season from 18th until the pair that tied for 20th are separated by less than 0.7 points in their average rankings, and one could argue the positions between those players are interchangeable.
Top 25 Under 25 History
The fourth pick the Canadiens made in 2018, Olofsson debuted at 21st later that summer. He rises a few spots in his second year.
History of #19
What were Olofsson’s strengths in his draft year — his offensive skill, his ability to drive play, and the scoring touch — were missing last season in Timrå. However, he did build up an area that used to be a weakness, his defensive game. If this was a result of Timrå’s change from a top team in HockeyAllsvenskan to a team in last place in the SHL or a decision that Olofsson took upon himself remains to be seen.
Without a doubt the young centre sorted out his defensive game, even if he looked a bit lost with the higher tempo in the SHL at first. By midseason he wasn’t drawn out of position, and he exited the defensive zone with control. His perceived weakness from a year ago had become a strength.
To make the switch from a defensive liability to a a defensive specialist, it seems that an equal and opposite change had to happen. Olofsson’s offence more or less disappeared. The quality of the team did him no favours in that department, nor did his linemates, as was evident in the series against Oskarshamn when his offence came to shine once more but his linemates were not up to par.
However, looking at the last week when Olofsson played with arguably the most talented offensive players in the Swedish draft class for 2020, his offensive game has been found wanting. It almost seems like Olofsson has lost his confidence when he has the puck on his stick. It remains to be seen if his offensive touch can be rediscovered during this season.
Right now, Olofsson looks to be an NHLer much in the same role as Jacob de la Rose was expected to play. He is a great skater and defensively secure, but that’s not why the Canadiens drafted him; they were projecting an offensive dynamo, which he was showing signs of becoming in HockeyAllsvenskan. It is not bad to get an NHL player like de la Rose at the 56th spot of an entry draft, but there are a few of them already in the system, especially at the centre position which is as deep as the Hudson Bay.
He has taken a huge step forward in his defensive role, but he has lost his offensive upside. The question that Olofsson will have to answer this upcoming season is if that was due to his team being bad or if this is his identity.
Skellefteå is a team that started the new way of controlling play in Sweden. They are in a rebuild, and Olofsson was brought into that team to fulfil their goals of becoming a contender once again. Even if he will have to start on the third line this year, he needs to take the necessary steps to win back his confidence with the puck and to be able to make the statement that he wants to be a top-six forward in the last year of his SHL contract in 2020-21.
One thing that Olofsson has definitely addressed since last year’s entry into the Top 25 Under 25 is that no one can challenge his work ethic. Last year he barely took a shift off, no matter the circumstance. Even when his team was losing by a couple of goals, he stood up to be measured and counted. He never wavered, he took it up on himself to try to bring the team back into the game. That dedication and the development he had in his defensive game should bode well for his chances of rediscovering his offensive game.
Can he do that? If he can, he is the player that Montreal believed they drafted, and he maintains a spot as one of the top prospects in the pool. If he can’t, he still has a good chance of making the NHL with the strides he took in 2018-19, just not in as high a role as many expected on draft day.