DENVER – Freshman Gustav Olofsson had plenty of reasons to feel nervous last weekend when the Colorado College defenseman played a series at St. Cloud State.
Not only was Sweden’s world junior contingent on hand scouting the Wild’s 2013 second-round pick, Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher was also inconspicuously in the stands.
“I heard a word about it, but you’ve got to always be on your game,” Olofsson said. “You never know who’s in the stands. It puts a little more pressure on you, but you’ve just got to take it as any other game and prepare the same way.”
On the Friday night when Fletcher was in attendance, Olofsson was one of the Tigers’ best players during the struggling team’s 2-2 tie with the Huskies. He made an exceptional play to assist on a power-play goal, was smooth with the puck and showed off his excellent skating.
Olofsson, who turns 19 on Sunday, has a terrific chance to play for Sweden when the country will be hosts of the World Junior Championships from Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Malmo.
“I think it would great for his development,” assistant GM Brent Flahr said. “He looks like an elite skater to me with very good puck poise and good natural instincts for the game. He’s come a long way in just a year, basically going from midget hockey to a strong second half in the USHL last year [with Green Bay] to pretty good success already as a college player.
“That’s put him right in line to make the world junior team.”
Olofsson might not be the only Wild draft pick at the world juniors. On Monday, it’s expected that rookie defenseman Matt Dumba will be among the names invited to Canada’s selection camp later this month. He’s a shoo-in to make the team and Fletcher says he is strongly considering loaning Dumba to Team Canada to play in the tournament.
Dumba, who has two points in 13 games, has been scratched 15 times and four in a row, so Fletcher feels being on Canada’s top defense pair in world juniors would be good for his development.
Also, Christoph Bertschy, a 2012 sixth-round pick by the Wild, is expected to play for Switzerland.
Olofsson moved to San Jose, Calif., in second grade, then back to Sweden in fifth grade for four years before moving to Colorado. So he’s got no trace of a Swedish accent.
His dream was to play college hockey, although he was pressured to forgo college and play for Portland in the Western Hockey League. Ultimately, “I wanted to play at home. My family can come to all my games,” he said.
Olofsson, whose favorite player is Wild defenseman and countryman Jonas Brodin, had hand surgery last summer, then sustained a separated shoulder earlier this season. He still needs to regain strength in his upper body.
“But I feel great on the ice,” he said.
“For him, it’s just maturing physically, and those [strength issues] won’t be a problem,” Flahr said. “His dad is a big man — 6-8, 275 pounds, so he’s got huge upside to physically grow and college hockey is a good spot for him to do so if he uses his time wisely.”
CC lists Olofsson now at 6-3, 190.
Looking to get back to being a structured, hard-working team that executes, coach Mike Yeo had a different look on some of his lines Saturday against Colorado.
The top line was Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Jason Pominville, Erik Haula centered Nino Niederreiter and Dany Heatley, Charlie Coyle moved back to center with Jason Zucker and Justin Fontaine, and Kyle Brodziak centered Matt Cooke and Torrey Mitchell.
Fontaine played for center Zenon Konopka, whose eye injury isn’t serious, Yeo said. Yeo also scrambled his top two defense pairs. Ryan Suter was paired with Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella was paired with Brodin. Josh Harding got the back-to-back starts in goal.