Name: Jacob Olofsson
Team: Timra IK (Allsvenskan)
Stats: 10 goals, 11 assists, 21 points
NHL Central Scouting Ranking: 9th (European Skaters)
NHL Comparable Player: Mikael Backlund
The 2018 NHL draft is a draft of wingers and blueliners. Part of this is because the wingers and blueliners are actually great. The other part is that the centers in this draft are just good. This is the draft though; where great can bust, and good can contribute.
That’s the expectation for Jacob Olofsson. The 6’2”, 192 pound center broke into Sweden’s second best league (behind the SHL) in the 2016-2017 season and eventually found his groove this season where he won the award for best junior — a list that includes names like Jonathan Dahlen, William Karlsson, and Filip Forsberg.
Statistically speaking, he has a great shot at making the NHL given his production:
Since 2005, only 14 forwards in the Allsvenskan have finished their draft year season with a 0.26+ ppg rate. Excluding the u22 forwards, 80% of them went on to play in the NHL.— S7 (@S7Dsn) February 4, 2018
This year, Jacob Olofsson and Filip Hallander could join the group.#2018NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/8Ed4QQPx8z
Watching Olofsson, it’s easy to see why. The big-bodied pivot was Timra’s checking line center, trusted to handle solid minutes against tough competition. He’s strong on the puck; able to stick handle well in both open ice and close quarters, and works well at creating offense from the defensive zone where he’s able to see multiple angles with fantastic awareness.
One of the buzzwords for players like Olofsson is “checking line center.” There’s nothing really wrong with these heuristics. But just like calling a defenseman that racks up points a puck moving defenseman, it leaves out the nuance. And there’s plenty of nuance to Olofsson’s game.
Here’s an example of how persistent Olofsson can be with space. While his quickness isn’t necessarily an asset, he has that classic loose puck speed; able to create more room for himself with sound decision making. He’s also a student of positioning. Watch any highlight and one of the first things that sticks out is his spatial awareness — knowing where to be if the puck is given to him, and where to be to give the puck to others.
That’s why I prefer to think of Olofsson as a counterpuncher rather than a checking line forward (to get a sense of this, think of what Radek Faksa might look like if a prime Patrick Sharp and Mike Hoffman were on his wings). He’s highly adept at utilizing transition play to turn good defense into good offense.
At No. 13, he’d be a big reach for the Dallas Stars. If they really wanted him, they’d try to package a roster player with a pick to get another late first rounder. Dallas already has several players who profile like Olofsson (in Roope Hintz and Jason Dickinson), and need to start playing them if they want to figure out what they’re capable of. For that reason, Olofsson might look like a bad pick even as a late first rounder if Dallas grabbed another first.
However, Olofsson is a better player than either Hintz and Dickinson at their relative age (against men no less). If the Stars haven’t learned anything from previous drafts, they’ll pick him at No. 13. If they have, and are high on him, they’ll find a way to pick him later in the first round without giving up the 13th pick. Regardless, Olofsson will be an NHL-quality player. It’ll just be a question of degree.