VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – After missing all of training camp because of a knee injury that followed season-ending shoulder surgery for a second consecutive season last spring, the Wild’s Gustav Olofsson played his third NHL game — and season debut — Tuesday night against the Canucks.
“It feels very earned by him,” AHL Iowa Wild coach Derek Lalonde said of the 21-year-old defenseman. “I think the timing is perfect. His game is in a good spot right now. He’s confident.”
Oft-injured so far in his pro career, the 2013 second-round draft pick was hoping to put all of that behind him. But almost instantly in his first prospect tournament game in Traverse City, Mich., two months ago, Olofsson hurt a knee, something he believes occurred because he was thinking too much about his shoulder.
The injury not only cost him a chance to showcase himself to the Wild’s new coaching staff, it led to a slow start in the AHL. But he has rediscovered his game the past two or three weeks.
“We’ve asked a lot of him,” Lalonde said. “There’s some nights we’ve asked too much of him where if he gets in that 24- to 26-minute mark, he does make a lot of tired mistakes. But it’s been good growth.
“He’s so talented, but there’s still some young mistakes — playing outside the dots, overhanding the puck, not reading a forecheck cleanly. You expect so much of him that you have to remember there’s still growth needed.”
Olofsson was excited to “make the most of the opportunity.”
“It just took a little bit for me to feel comfortable again,” said Olofsson, who played only 52 games for Iowa last season and one the year before. “It started going uphill from there. [The shoulder injuries] are all in the past. It never goes through my mind now.”
Lalonde used to coach Olofsson, who was born in Sweden but grew up in Colorado, with Green Bay of the USHL, when he was “really raw.”
“There’s so much upside with this kid,” Lalonde said. “He is a tall, lanky, puck-moving, patient, calm with the puck, poised D-man. Those of his stature are hard to find.
“You look at some of our young ‘D’ down [in Iowa], the poise is the last thing that comes. Everything’s so hyper, so fast for them right now, where Gustav already has that NHL-type poise. And, it might actually be easier for him in the NHL because it’s more of a controlled game [than the AHL], and I think he fits that mold.”
Right winger Teemu Pulkkinen, who had one goal and four shots in eight games with the Wild last month, is heating up in Iowa. The AHL-leading goal scorer two years ago scored five last week and ranks ninth in the league with eight.
“He’s a true finisher,” Lalonde said. “He has an elite shot and when he’s assertive offensively, that’s when he’s good. When he struggles, he cheats the game instead of using his anticipation to get his offense. He feels he has to score. So we tried to calm him down, and told him if he wants a chance with [coach Bruce Boudreau] again, yes, offense is great, but you have to be accountable.”
Pulkkinen also is not the fleetest of foot and had trouble getting separation to get his shot off during his short Minnesota stint.
“Yes, that’s going to be a reality for him, but I think he’ll figure out the pace,” Lalonde said. “He’s too elite with his offensive tools to not be able to have some success [in the NHL].”
• Six years after making his NHL debut on his 21st birthday, defenseman Jared Spurgeon turned 27 Tuesday: “I still have the same beard,” said the baby-faced Spurgeon.