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A Whirlwind Year

by Kelly Erickson / Minnesota Wild

Gustav Olofsson’s year was, in a word, surreal.

One year ago, the Minnesota Wild selected the 19-year-old in the second round (46th overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Come fall, he started his freshman year at Colorado College.

After a natural adjustment period to college life, the defenseman played for Team Sweden at the International Ice Hockey Federation’s World Junior Championship. He picked up a goal and five points with a plus-five rating in seven games en route to a silver medal finish. But the blueliner wasn’t done making strides just yet.

At the end of CC’s disappointing 7-24-6 season, Olofsson signed an entry-level deal with Minnesota on March 24 and packed his bags for Iowa, playing in eight games with the Wild’s American Hockey League affiliate.

“It all flew by,” he said. “From the time that I got drafted, I never really sat back. It’s all been motivating and a push to have that in the back of my head during the year. Everything kind of took care of itself. I just focused on playing and I ended up playing my best hockey in Iowa. It was really a pretty good year overall.”

A Confidence Boost

In the weeks leading up to the 2013 Draft, Olofsson’s stock was on the rise. After a solid year in the United States Hockey League with the Green Bay Gamblers — he registered two goals and 23 points with a plus-11 rating and 59 PIM in 63 games played — he earned an invitation to the 2013 Scouting Combine.

After the Combine he was rated the 51st skater in North America. According to Assistant General Manager Brent Flahr, the year the young defenseman put together prior to the draft caused him to rocket up the Wild’s draft board. Without a first round pick, Minnesota selected him in the second round.

“In the second half of the season before we drafted him we saw him really take off,” Flahr said. “We were happy to get him and saw him in the summer and just his natural ability was pretty apparent when he came to Development Camp. His upside is exciting.”

Heading into the draft, the blueliner’s lone expectation was getting selected. It didn’t matter where or when, all that mattered was hearing his name called.

“It would just be another step in that realization that you’re in an organization, that you know what you’re working towards,” Olofsson said. “I was obviously thrilled with Minnesota; I couldn’t be happier with that organization. It’s just kind of a recognition in your head that this is where you’re going and this is a step you need to take.”

Going in the second round made the moment a little sweeter. Hearing his name called early was an acknowledgement of all his hard work and a step in achieving his NHL dreams, giving his confidence a nice boost and launching off his whirlwind year.

“It’s just a confidence thing and something that I felt pretty honored to have,” Olofsson said.

A Coming Out Party

The whirlwind season didn’t exactly take off from the start.

In his fresman year, he suffered an early set back with an injury at the beginning of the season. Once healed, Olofsson became a fixture on the Tigers’ blue line, playing in 30 of CC’s 37 games with four goals and eight points.

Despite the sluggish start, he hit his stride mid-season at the WJC in Malmo, Sweden on the host country’s roster. Beyond winning the silver medal, the Umea, Sweden native led all Swedish defensemen with his play in the tournament.

“That kind of opened everybody’s eyes that maybe didn’t know him as well before,” Flahr said. “He got a lot of recognition.

“For a kid like this, I don’t even know if he thought the draft was realistic coming into his season. So from that to being drafted in the second round and going to World Juniors — he wasn’t even necessarily recognized in his own country — he opened a lot of people’s eyes last year in Sweden and over here.”

Olofsson’s confidence stayed on the rise after the WJC and after an up and down year at CC, it was was buoyed further a few weeks later when he inked an entry-level contract with the Wild.

After one year in college, in which he grew on and off the ice, leaving was a difficult choice.

“It was tough,” Olofsson said. “There are things that everyone likes to accomplish. But I felt like, for my hockey career, I needed to go. It was obviously something I talked about with my family and something that I worked through for a while, but in the end it felt right.”

A New Transition

When the 19-year-old made the move to Iowa, the Wild was nearing the end of the regular season and out of playoff contention.

The blueliner played in eight games netting one goal. In that short time, he felt his game was coming together, playing what he considered was his best hockey of the year.

“When I came to Iowa it just felt like everything came into place,” Olofsson said. “Playing there has prepared me now for what I’m working towards during the summer and where I want to be next year.”

While his play was on point, the transition to Iowa was a unique experience. At the time, Iowa was in the middle of one of its longest road trips of the season — a five-game spread over a week and a half. Rather than settling into life in Des Moines, Olofsson was quickly reintroduced to life on the road — settling into hotels while bussing from city to city.

“That was a bit different, especially since I was used to playing college hockey every weekend and not having that amount of travel,” Olofsson said. “It was kind of like junior hockey. It didn’t take me long to adjust but it was good to get a taste of that at the end of the year.”

With a taste of life on the road, the youngster also bit off a healthy portion of playing with professionals in the AHL — against guys playing night in and out, vying for that call-up to the Show.

Though he appeared in only eight games, that time set the tone for his summer, knowing what he’ll be up against next season.

“You obviously know how well off physically your teammates and opponents are so that’s something you take into the summer and compare yourself to in your own strides and goals,” Olofsson said. “That’s kind of been my motivation now and I know where I need to be at the start of next year.”

Flahr noted that the defenseman still has some work to do in the weight room and needs to grow into his body, but the Wild remain excited about his potential, especially given how far he’s come in recent seasons.

“To see where he’s come from just a year or two ago to where he is now, it’s pretty impressive,” Flahr said. “He’s grown a lot and just advanced to higher levels and really made transitions quickly and smoothly. That’s really helped him. He’s a type of kid, I think, if he does the things he needs to, he can transition pretty quickly through the pro ranks.

“A couple years ago he’s playing midget hockey in Colorado and now he’s a step away from the NHL.”

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