April is signing season for NHL teams as prospects wrap up their seasons and GM’s are eager to get some shiny new toys in the system. And while more high profile players like Casey Mittelstadt and Henrik Borgstrom get most of the pub, here are a few late round pick signings that deserve your attention.
Victor Olofsson – BUF
Drafted in the seventh round four years ago by the Buffalo Sabres, Olofsson has quietly been going about his business at home in Sweden putting together an impressive three years of play before exploding for a monster fourth year. In his draft+1 year, Olofsson posted 18 points and then proceeded to follow that up with campaigns of 29 and 27 points. But he absolutely blew the doors off in 2017-18 with a season that propelled him to the upper echelon of players in the league. In averaging just over 16 and a half minutes of ice time per game for Frolunda, Olofsson led the entire league in goal scoring by tickling the twine 27 times, including 14 with the man advantage and seven to win the game, both league bests, on 161 shots which was the third highest total in the league. To put his goal scoring exploits in a historical context, it’s the twelfth most goals in a season in league history by a U24 player. He finished second on Frolunda and eighth in league scoring with 43 points, tying for third in the SHL with 24 power play points. It’s no wonder the Sabres wanted to lock up his rights. He crosses the pond with a total of 60 goals and 117 points in 200 games and has traditionally excelled in the playoffs with a near points per game pace of 24 points in 27 playoff contests. The slightly undersized sniper has speed to burn and a wicked wrister making him a potentially valuable fantasy commodity. But look elsewhere if you need someone to contribute to bangers ‘n’ mash stats as Olofsson took only four minor penalties all year and accumulated just 13 hits and 18 blocked shots. It’s been a four year journey, but it looks like this late round selection by the Sabres is beginning to pay dividends.
Linus Ölund – PIT
Like Victor Olofsson, Ölund has been plying his trade in his motherland of Sweden during his formative hockey years. A fifth-round pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 draft, it was actually his third year of draft eligibility but was passed over in the previous two. Ölund has been playing in the Brynäs system since he was just 14 years old, starting out in with the U16 squad and progressing to his current role for the past three seasons to that of an SHL regular. After getting a cup of coffee in 2014-15, Ölund suited up for a healthy portion of the schedule in 2015-16 but hardly played when he did, seeing less than five minutes per game over 23 games. So it’s not shocking to see that he only managed to record one assist. 2016-17 say him again relegated to a bottom line role, but that didn’t prevent him from putting up some pretty impressive offensive numbers for the19-year-oldd. He finished 12th on the team in scoring, 10th among forwards, with eight goals and seven assists for 15 points in 39 games averaging just 10 minutes per game. It’s worth noting that everyone who finished ahead of him in team scoring averaged at least four and a half minutes more than Ölund. He had his coming out party during the postseason as he finished fourth in playoff scoring with six goals and four assists as Brynäs made it all the way to the championship before falling to HV71. No doubt this stretch of play went a long way in helping scouts take notice of him and secured his status of being worthy of a selection. His draft+1 year saw Ölund playing a bigger role on Brynas , skating top-six minutes and he’s responded with a career year. He finished fifth on the team in both goals with eight, and assists with 13, and wound up seventh in total points with 23. He once again came through in the playoffs, tying for second in scoring on the team with two goals and three helpers in the squad’s eight games. Since being eliminated, Ölund signed a three-year, entry-level deal with Pittsburgh which kicks in come the fall as he will finish the current season on an amateur tryout deal with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
The book on Olund is that he’s a smart, 200-foot player who’s no slouch in the scoring department. And while he’s not a huge banger, he’s by no means a Phil Kessel either, he finished in the top third on his team in hits with 26 this past year. This is his first foray outside of the friendly confines of Sweden so he’s probably due for an adjustment period. And although a natural centre, a switch to the wing is highly likely.
Ivan Chekhovich – SJ
The skilled Russian came into his draft year with a impressive pedigree having been selected third overall in the 2016 CHL import draft by the Baie-Comeau Drakkar of the QMJHL, one pick ahead fo Filip Zadina and three slots ahead of eventual #1 NHL pick Nico Hischier. He proceeded to back-up this lofty draft status with an impressive rookie season in North America. Chekhovich led the Drakkar in the regular season in goals (26), assists (33) and points (59) and when it came playoff time he led the way with three points in a four game sweep at the hands of the Charlottetown Islanders which saw Chekhovich’s squad score just six times. On the international stage, Chekhovich suited up for Russian at the Under-18 and once again was a top offensive threat, tying with future top three NHL pick Andrei Svechnikov for the team high mark in scoring with nine points in seven tournament games. Leading up to the draft he was ranked in the top-100 but a number of scouting services but a combination of factors, namely defensive play and consistency, caused him to slide all the way down to the seventh round where the San Jose Sharks scooped him up with pick 212. His draft+1 season saw him put up nearly identical number across the board as he finished the year with 29 goals, 31 assists and 60 points, finished third on the team in points, second in goals and second in shots with 209. Once Baie-Comeau was eliminated from postseason play Chekhovich was signed by the San Jose Barracudas to an amateur tryout. But it didn’t take him long to parlay that into an entry-level deal thanks to an incredible stretch of six games that saw him rack up nine points, impressing Sharks GM Doug Wilson in the process. He’s not the biggest guy on the ice but is one of the most purely skilled player in the system and could advance quickly if his play over the past few weeks is any indication of his upside.
As always thanks for checking out this week’s edition of The Journey. Give me a follow on Twitter @BradHPhillips. Enjoy your weekend and most importantly enjoy the draft lottery. Hopefully all of that losing my Sabres did over the past six months wasn’t all for nothing!
More from The Journey: Prospects on the Rise