On the same day he was named the NHL's Rookie of the Month for December, Buffalo Sabres forward Victor Olofsson found himself on the sidelines with a lower-body injury. The rookie lost an edge and fell into the end boards during the third period of Buffalo's overtime win against the Oilers on Jan. 3, and the next day, Olofsson was ruled out for approximately five to six weeks.
It's now been five weeks since the injury and Olofsson was back on the ice with his teammates for practice on Saturday at KeyBank Center.
"I've been trying to stay really positive and just look at it as an opportunity to get stronger and come back with a fresh start and fresh mind," he said. "I'm looking forward to it."
Sabres coach Ralph Krueger has been optimistic about Olofsson's rehab, but estimates that it still could be approximately another week before the forward is able to lace up again for a game. All parties involved are being cautious with the injury to avoid any setbacks. Getting Olofsson back on the ice with the team was just the next step in the process.
"We're pleased with the way the injury's evolved and we also think it's a time where he's been able to do some reflection and some more mental growth," Krueger said. "I always find these injury situations [as] opportunities for players if they use them properly. He's been able to observe the game from the outside.
"We've been interacting with him quite a bit and I think it's going to take him even to another level of maturity, having a bit of a pause in a season which was truly Rookie of the Year [in the] NHL-caliber. We're confident he'll be able to get back to that level, but even with a higher feeling of confidence, having looked at the game from the outside now."
Video: SABRES IN :50
His season totals of 16 goals and 35 points led NHL rookies at the time of his injury (the play on which he was injured ended with Sam Reinhart's game-tying goal, and Olofsson was credited with the secondary assist).
However, Colorado defenseman Cale Makar (November's Rookie of the Month), Vancouver forward Quinn Hughes, Montreal forward Nick Suzuki and Chicago forward Dominik Kubalik (January's Rookie of the Month), have been piling up points in the meantime to climb the rookie scoring leaderboard.
Makar and Hughes are tied for the League lead with 40 points each, while Kubalik is ahead of all other rookies with 21 goals.
"I haven't really been paying much attention to that," Olofsson, who was also named the NHL's Rookie of the Month for October, said. "I'm just looking forward to get back and I just want to play hockey right now."
The Sabres host the Anaheim Ducks tomorrow afternoon at KeyBank Center. Pregame coverage on MSG will begin at 2:30 p.m. with faceoff set for 3 p.m. Tickets are on sale now.
How they lined up
Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Krueger
13 Jimmy Vesey - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 20 Scott Wilson
90 Marcus Johansson - 27 Curtis Lazar - 67 Michael Frolik
53 Jeff Skinner - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 43 Conor Sheary
Defensemen: 4 Zach Bogosian, 10 Henri Jokiharju, 19 Jake McCabe, 26 Rasmus Dahlin, 33 Colin Miller, 55 Rasmus Ristolainen, 62 Brandon Montour
40 Carter Hutton
34 Jonas Johansson
Olofsson worked in with Larsson's line during rushes.
Power Play Units
Eichel - Dahlin - Ristolainen - Reinhart - Johansson
Montour - Miller - Skinner - Sheary - Vesey
Video: Rob Ray interviews Jimmy Vesey on postgame show
Over the last four games, Vesey has taken advantage of the opportunity to play with Eichel and Reinhart, the team's leading scorers. He scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal in last night's 3-2 road victory against the Rangers.
"We like Jimmy to be skating, we like him to be active, we like him to play confident," Krueger said. "He's really embraced that here the last few weeks.
"…When you play with them, you have to understand you're going to go up against top lines in the league, you're going to play 20 minutes, and it's a grind in both directions. I think Jimmy's really taken on that side of the responsibility with them too, which we really like. His complete game is going to a new level."
Amerks playing today
Rasmus Asplund and Lawrence Pilut were assigned to the Rochester Americans of the AHL this morning and they're expected to be in the lineup for the Amerks this afternoon when they play the Marlies.
"It's a good game in Toronto today and that opportunity to keep their feet moving, to keep active, and they'll be playing some big minutes today," Krueger said. "Then we'll re-evaluate later today, but right now, it's just about getting them a game."
Faceoff from Coca-Cola Coliseum is scheduled for 4 p.m. and will be carried live on The Sports Leader AM 950/95.7 FM ESPN Rochester as well as AHLTV.