Victor Olofsson developed confidence in his ability to play in the NHL during a six-game stint with the Buffalo Sabres at the end of the 2018-19 season. He tallied four points - including two goals - while skating on the top line alongside Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.
Olofsson found himself back alongside Eichel and Reinhart upon making the Sabres out of training camp last fall, though success was not immediate. While Olofsson got off to a hot start thanks to his scoring on the power play, the trio took time to click at even strength. They were even broken up for a game against the New York Islanders on Nov. 3.
It's what happened next that sticks out to Reinhart when reflecting on Olofsson's rookie year
"He actually moved away from us for a game or two," Reinhart recalled. "And then what shocked me and surprised me and really impressed me was how really quickly he learned, his smarts kind of played out and he realized kind of what he needed to do to be that much more effective, and when he came back, obviously he took off."
Olofsson was back with Eichel and Reinhart for the next game against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Sweden. He tallied an assist that night, then scored his first even-strength goal the following game. He was a fixture on the top line from that point on until sustaining a high-ankle sprain in January.
Video: BUF@TBL: Olofsson spins and scores in home country
"Just that ability that quick to figure out what wasn't clicking and to be able to change that, he was that much more aggressive on pucks, he wasn't just kind of waiting for the puck to get to him, and he realized that very fast," Reinhart said. "That's what impressed me looking back on him."
Olofsson might have been the favorite to win the Calder Trophy prior to the injury to his ankle, which cost him 15 games. He had already earned NHL Rookie of the Month honors for both October and December and led league rookies in goals (16) and points (35) at the time of his injury.
He still managed to tally 20 goals and 42 points in 54 games, the highest totals by a Sabres rookie since Eichel and Reinhart in 2015-16. It all speaks to the work ethic that former coaches described when telling the story of how Olofsson molded himself from a seventh-round pick to a top-line NHL player last fall.
"I think his work ethic and his dedication to hockey is probably the thing that jumps out the most," Eichel said. "Obviously, he wants to be a good hockey player. He cares about his game, he takes care of himself and he's constantly works on his shot. He definitely holds himself accountable. When you put those things together, you're bound to have success."
Olofsson's shot immediately proved to be a weapon on the power play, though he admitted that teams began adjusting and dedicating more attention to him as the season wore on. That is nothing new; he's caught opponents by surprise and had to deal with adjustments at every level of his pro hockey journey.
"You just find solutions and think a little bit differently sometimes," he said. "But it's a fun challenge, too. I feel like that might be something I have to challenge a little bit earlier, right from the beginning next year. So, I'm kind of looking forward to it."
Video: Victor Olofsson on his rookie year
With an elongated offseason likely awaiting him, Olofsson has his sights set on reaching another level in 2020-21. He believes consistency can get him there.
"I think that's something I've got to learn, just to be at a high level and be a threat all the time throughout an 82-game season," he said.
"I think that's going to be the biggest challenge for me because I feel like I have the capability of scoring a lot of goals. So, I've just got to learn to manage the amount of games. That's my biggest challenge."