Colorado College is in the midst of what is going to be a terrible season for them. They've got a 1-8-2 record, and looking at their remaining schedule, it's hard to see them getting that many more wins this year.
Playing on a last place team can make it difficult to judge how an NHL prospect is playing, because there's not going to be a lot of statistical evidence to use. That's why we decided to take a closer at Colorado College freshman defenseman Gustav Olofsson this past Saturday when he skated in CC's 6-2 loss to St. Cloud State, to try to make a determination on how he's playing, and on his future NHL prospects.
Olofsson is a 6'2" 190 lbs. defenseman originally from Sweden. But he moved to the United States as a teenager, where he played Midget AAA for the Colorado Thunderbirds programs, before moving to the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL. Last summer, the Minnesota Wild made Olofsson the 46th overall pick in the NHL Draft when they selected in the second round.
Coming into Saturday's game, Olofsson had scored a goal and an assist in seven games played on the backline for the Tigers. He sat out four games in late-September/early-November with what was described as an upper-body injury.
On Saturday, Olofsson ended the game with an official stat line of one power play goal with two shots on goal, but also a -2 +/- rating and a penalty. Let's go beyond the box score and take a closer look at how he played though.
In looking at Olofsson's role on the Tigers, he's partnered with Winnipeg Jets prospect Peter Stoykewych, and they're pretty clearly Colorado College's top defensive pairing. My unofficial tally showed Olofsson with 19 shifts at even strength, five on the power play and one shorthanded on Saturday night. If I had to guess, that's roughly 22-24 minutes of ice-time. Olofsson and Stoykewych were also always the first defensive pairing out after a media timeout, even if they had skated the last shift prior to the media timeout. Or at least they did in the first half of the game. CC just rolled their three pairings in the third period when the game result was all but decided.
Olofsson plays on CC's top power play unit. The Tigers play an umbrella-style power play with Olofsson at the top of the umbrella. More on that later. It stands to reason he'd be a pretty big part of their penalty kill as well, but as mentioned above, just had the one short-handed shift. St. Cloud only had three power plays on the night, and Olofsson was in the box for one of them. On the last St. Cloud power play, the Huskies scored 30 seconds into the penalty, before Olofsson had a chance to get onto the ice.
We'll start with what impressed me most about Olofsson, and what makes me think he could have a very long NHL career: He has the ability to cover a lot of ice. For starters, the kid is 6'2" and I wouldn't be surprised if his wingspan is a little bigger than that. For most players, that extra size and reach comes at the expense of agility, but I was really impressed with Olofsson's first couple steps. Add in that Olofsson seems to have a solid feel for the game and ability to read plays and that makes him even a half-step quicker.
To highlight this, my favorite play he made on the night came in the first period with St. Cloud on the power play. A St. Cloud player had the puck in the left corner, beneath the goal line. Olofsson was covering the front of the net. The St. Cloud was pressured and tried to throw a pass behind the net to the other corner. Olofsson read the play, jumped behind the net and was able to intercept the pass and get a clear. A fairly simple looking play, but something 99% of defensemen wouldn't be able to do. In the third period, St. Cloud carried the puck into the zone, and established possession by dropping the puck back to a Husky that controlled the puck near the blueline. Olofsson had followed the first forward down to about the face-off dot, but read the pass back to the blueline and was able to jump up and knock the puck away from the Husky at the blueline before he could do anything with it. Again, it looked like a simple defensive play, until you think about how much ice he covered in such a short amount of time.
Defensively, he overall had a decent game. He does a very nice job finding his man in front of the net and tying them up if a shot comes in from the perimeter.Despite his size, he's much more of a finesse defender than a bruising, physical defenseman. He loves to use his long reach to poke check the puck away. I counted at least three takeaways for him by using that long stick, including breaking up a pass on a dangerous two-on-two rush.
There is a downside to that though, which is that he can sometimes get reaching with his stick instead of taking the body, which can get him into trouble if he misses the puck. That was the case on St. Cloud's fourth goal, when Nic Dowd walked out of the corner, avoided an Olofsson pokecheck, and lifted a backhand into the top shelf of the net. Here's a video of the play:
In addition to developing a little more physical presence, Olofsson probably needs to add a little more strength before he's ready for the pro level. He was flattened by a much smaller St. Cloud player in the first period. He didn't have the puck, and the play drew an interference penalty, so part of it was that he caught off guard, but he still seemed to go down pretty easy. He was also knocked over by a forechecker while retrieving a puck in the corner. He was still able to get rid of the puck and make a play, but he's going to have to get much stronger to handle going into the corners with more physically mature players. But defense is only a small part of what Olofsson brings to the table. He's more known as an offensive defenseman. Olofsson isn't afraid to carry the puck up the ice and into the offensive zone, or to jump up into the play and turn a 2-on-2 into a 3-on-2. Ironically, his best rush of the night ended with the worst result. In the second period, Olofsson picked up the puck in his own zone. He skated the puck out of the defensive end, made a great outlet pass to a teammate in the neutral zone, and joined the rush to give CC a 3-on-2. The rush didn't produce a great scoring chance and the puck came back to the forward that was covering for Olofsson on defense. The forward panicked with the puck, turned it over, and St. Cloud turned it into an odd-man rush the other way which ended up in the CC net. On the power play, Olofsson is at the top of the umbrella and wasn't afraid to use his shot. He fired a lot of good, hard shots. In the first period, he had his first shot attempt on the power play blocked by a defenseman, but his second shot attempt was tipped by a man in front of the net. In the second period, he one-timed a slap shot for a goal, and almost added another on a hard one-timer in the third period. Here's a video of his goal:
Overall, I came away from Saturday's game extremely impressed with Olofsson's play, and with his long-term potential. Here's still probably a year or two away before he's physically ready for professional hockey, but all of the tools are there. He may not draw much recognition playing on a bad Colorado College team, but he's one of the best freshman defensemen in the NCAA this year. He's got the potential to be a very good offensive-defenseman at the NHL level.