Buffalo Sabres: Has Victor Olofsson become an unsung defensive forward?

Even those with 20/20 foresight never would have thought the Buffalo Sabres winger would see a role where he would adopt a defensive approach.

Dec 15, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Buffalo Sabres left wing Victor Olofsson (71) skates against
Dec 15, 2023; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Buffalo Sabres left wing Victor Olofsson (71) skates against / Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
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Recently, Bill Hoppe of Buffalo Hockey Beat wrote an interesting piece regarding a change in Buffalo Sabres winger Victor Olofsson’s role with the team. And through the 31 contests Olofsson has played in, you may have noticed he hasn’t done much damage shooting from the circle at even strength or on the power play, but he’s helped in other areas as this season has worn on. 

Overall, he’s primarily been seeing time as a fourth-liner in a rotational role, having played on the line this past Thursday when Devon Levi and the Sabres beat the Montreal Canadiens by five goals. And given the still-ongoing logjam in the top-six and a third line that has clicked, it’s likely we will see Olofsson playing such a role from here on out barring another injury bug.

The numbers also back up Olofsson’s success, as last season, the Sabres on-ice save percentage when he was in the game sat at just 88.1 percent at 5-on-5, and a meager 87.7 at even strength. However, that has changed this season, with Buffalo boasting an on-ice save percentage of 90.8 percent at 5-on-5 and even strength, respectively, with Olofsson. 

Buffalo Sabres all-out offensive winger playing defensive role well

The Sabres on-ice save percentage with the 28-year-old isn’t the only evidence that Olofsson is playing well as a defensive forward. Olofsson, who has just 12 points and four goals on the year, also owns a plus-2 rating, which is on pace to become a career-high. When you think about how much the Sabres have struggled defensively at times this season, that plus-2 isn’t half-bad.

Olofsson has never been a physical player, but he has invaded shooting lanes to snag eight blocked shots in 2023-24 through 31 games, putting him on pace to receive his highest number of blocks per game since 2019-20. He also has 10 takeaways, which also puts him in a good position to snag his best per game number in the category since 2020-21.

While Olofsson likely won’t stick around the Buffalo Sabres lineup, developing a more defensive game than he has could give him value around the trade deadline if there is a taker willing to flip a late-round pick for the winger. Or, if he remains in the City of Good Neighbors for the year, he can also show that he can do more than just play sound offense. 

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Source: Sabres’ Victor Olofsson evolving in new role: ‘He’s become a better player’

(More information and statistics provided by Hockey-Reference)