It would be easy for 20-year-old defenseman Gustav Olofsson
to look toward the future. After all, many are painting a bright one for the budding prospect.
"My goal is to play in the NHL, but obviously you have to think short-term: 'What are you doing tomorrow at practice?'" Olofsson said. "Right now my focus is here, and trying to get my game back, and building a rhythm and consistency. Then trying to take that to the next level."
Watching a practice or a preseason game, Olofsson looks the part of a highly regarded, soon-to-be-regular-NHL defenseman. It's all the more impressive considering how little he's played over the past year.
"However he's done it, he looks like he's already developed," Head Coach Mike Yeo said. "He hasn't played games, but that's going to be so important for him."
Olofsson sustained an injury last year that kept him out of all but one AHL game for Iowa, which he played at the beginning of the season on Oct. 10. He was with the Wild at the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, and has played in three of the Wild's four preseason games.
"It's a bit more exciting doing that, and getting in a rhythm, and playing consistently instead of sitting out, and waiting for a bit, and playing a game here or there," Olofsson said.
At a time many players are hitting their stride in terms of development, Olofsson was forced to sit out and observe. It was a period he said was difficult for a number of reasons.
"Just watching your teammates go to the rink every day, and you're kind of on a different schedule with rehab, and [physical therapy]," Olofsson said. "They're out there playing games, and being on the road, so that was hard. It definitely sat in the back of my mind to work extra-hard because now I have the chance to play again."
The time he put in is paying its dividends now. Olofsson has looked very comfortable throughout training camp, showing no signs of timid, post-injury play. He makes quick decisions in his own zone, and is effective at jumpstarting the rush.
"The only reason we're not talking about him having a chance to make our team based on the training camp that he's had so far is because he hasn't played hockey," Yeo said. "We need him to play."
And that's where the element of getting ahead of himself could come into play. Olofsson by every appearance is a future NHL defenseman, but it's the here-and-now that he's more focused on.
"Every training camp is different obviously with which opportunities are open and not, but right now, for me, I'm just trying to get better," Olofsson said. "Whatever happens, happens, and it's kind of out of my control besides how I play, and the way I develop. That's all I'm focusing on."
It's a mature attitude and one that probably benefited Olofsson when he was rehabbing from his injury, and forced to miss virtually a full season.
"I was sitting there hurt, but you can't get down on yourself," Olofsson said. "You just have to push through and know that it's part of the game to be hurt and injured. Just really it's trying to take advantage of the time, and get better, not just stay at the same pace."
Instead, Olofsson used the time to get better in any way he could, making sure his long-term trajectory stayed on the right path.
"He's looking like a guy who's not going to need three, four years in the minors to be ready as far as the poise that he has, the way he executes, and the way he moves the puck," Yeo said. "He defends well, but certainly there are some areas where he can get a little bit stronger, a little bit heavier in his game, and just even timing and reading some plays."
Olofsson is the first to admit he still has a lot of room to grow. But he's just happy to be at training camp, playing hockey again, and rounding into the player many expect him to become.
"Myself, personally, that's something that I take pride in: trying to get better every day," Olofsson said. "Looking at other players and seeing what little things I can do to improve because you can't take a stand-still in your development, you always have to continue to get better if you want to play in the NHL."