October 21, 2018

Waiting in the wings – Swedish domination in the AHL

WAITING FOR THEIR CHANCE. Victor Olofsson, Lawrence Pilut and Alex Nylander have all had a great start to the season in Rochester. Photos: IBL/All Over Press

The American Hockey League uses a specific symbol in their scoring charts to indicate whenever a player is considered a rookie; an asterisk (*). In order to have the asterisk pinned next to your name, you need to fulfill the AHL’s requirements for rookie status – meaning you need to be 25 years or younger and not have played in 25 or more AHL or NHL games.

That is the reason Rochester Americans players Victor Olofsson, 23, and Lawrence Pilut, 22, have an asterisk next to their names while younger teammate and fellow Swede Alexander Nylander, 20, do not. While household names in the top Swedish league – SHL – Olofsson and Pilut are both playing in their first seasons in North American hockey with Nylander, the wily veteran, entering his third season as an AHL professional.

Rookies or not, what all three players have in common is that they are currently under contract with the Buffalo Sabres… and that they’ve started the AHL season on fire. Olofsson and Pilut especially so. Olofsson is currently leading the league with 14 points (five goals, nine assists) while Pilut has scored ten (two goals, eight assists) – fourth in the league and second among all defensemen.

“I felt confident coming into this season”, the sharpshooting Olofsson told reporters after an October 16th practice. “Especially after the season I had last year in Sweden. It is a bit of a different game over here so I had to adjust a little bit at the beginning but now it feels good.”

While both have been playing professional hockey for multiple seasons – Olofsson with Frölunda, Pilut with HV1 – Pilut echoed Olofsson’s sentiments on adjustments:

“I think I’ve been doing better and better every game. I feel like I am still learning out there and trying to adjust every game, just trying to improve. I do feel like I’ve brought a lot of my game over from Sweden.”

Outside of Olofsson, Pilut, and Nylander, 20-year old center Rasmus Asplund has also suited up for the “Amerks” – giving the team a distinct Swedish flavor. Something Pilut says have helped in transitioning to North American hockey:

“It’s pretty nice, it makes it easier coming over to have a couple of guys here that you knew from before.”

ALSO: Not an afterthought anymore – Victor Olofsson looks to give Sabres value 

NYLANDER RETURNING TO FORM

Alexander Nylander has faced criticism in his young career for not bringing his considerable talents to the rink each and every game, instead of displaying flashes of brilliance followed by stretches of inconsistency.

Coming into 2018-19, maintaining a higher level of consistency and improving his goal-scoring ability were two of the areas Nylander focused on:

“I think I could create more offensively, get more shots and obviously start scoring more goals. I think I can just do even better than this.”, the forward told The Buffalo News.

And he has.

Nylander is off to his best start yet in the AHL, having scored three goals and five assists for eight point in eight games.

When interviewed by BN in connection to Nylander’s own comments, Rochester Americans coach Chris Taylor confirmed he is beginning to see results:

“Just because if you score two goals the night before, the next day it’s not just going out there, hit the ice and get it over with. Work on something else. He’s doing that. He’s staying out after practice, working hard and working on things that he’s not good at.”

TIME TO MAKE CHANGES?

The Buffalo Sabres have had a so-so start to their season.

Perhaps not bad by Buffalo standards – four wins in eight games is not all that bad when you consider the club has missed the playoffs for seven straight seasons – but not good enough for an organization hoping to see significant improvement among its players this year.

The team has struggled to score, putting up just 18 goals in eight games while allowing 23. Superstar Jack Eichel leads the team with eight points while young forwards Tage Thompson (zero points) and Casey Mittelstadt (one point) have struggled. Among defenders, Rasmus Ristolainen, Rasmus Dahlin, Jake McCabe, and Marco Scandella have formed a reasonably solid top four, while Zach Bogosian, Casey Nelson and Nathan Beaulieau have rotated in the role of fifth and sixth defenseman.

Even if the Sabres haven’t had a catastrophic start to the season by any means, one might say they are lacking a natural goal-scorer (Olofsson) to take some pressure of Jeff Skinner, a playmaking winger (Nylander) to help the top-six forwards, or why not an offensive defenseman (Pilut) to score points while Dahlin and Ristolainen aren’t on the ice.

Meanwhile in Rochester; the three Swedes are doing nothing but prove they deserve to be up with the big club sooner rather than later – displaying exactly the kind of confidence and offensive flair the Sabres have been lacking.

While we’re unlikely to see all three called up at the same time – won’t somebody think of poor Rochester! – one or two should see time with the Sabres in the coming weeks if nothing else to show the rest of the organization that good performances are rewarded.

Should Olofsson, Pilut and Nylander get in games with the Sabres this year, they’ll all have one thing in common regardless of results – all three will have an asterisk next to their name indicating that they’re rookies.

@TheAlpha Furyan

Hampus Duvefelt hampus_duvefelt@live.se
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