WINNIPEG – Defenseman Gustav Olofsson’s first year as a pro was basically a wash.
The Wild’s prized prospect played one game Oct. 10 before undergoing season-ending surgery for a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
Tuesday night in Winnipeg, the 2013 second-rounder continued his long road back by playing in the Wild’s 1-0 exhibition overtime win over the Jets. He looked sharp as a tandem with Maxime Fortunus, the former Austin captain the Wild has signed to an AHL deal.
“It’s very exciting and more fun for me to be in my element and do what I love to do,” said Olofsson, 20. “It’s a very exciting time again to be healthy. … Now’s the real deal.”
Olofsson said much of his 2014-15 season was spent at his Iowa apartment or working out so he didn’t get “chubby.” He did five months of physical therapy, and once he could start skating, it was mostly by himself.
“I can’t even put it into words,” Olofsson said of how tough things became. “You learn a lot about yourself and who you are as a person. It definitely put a test on you mentally.”
Olofsson, who was born in Sweden but spent most of his youth in the United States, is a smooth-skating, left-shot blue liner.
He plays a very similar game to the Wild’s Jonas Brodin, and coach Mike Yeo said, “Probably the only reason we’re not talking about him making our team is we know he needs to play some hockey right now. … He’s looking like he’s going to be a real solid player.”
“You watch him play, he’s so smooth,” added assistant GM Brent Flahr. “His hockey IQ and his ability to move and make plays and get out of trouble in the defensive zone are just hard to teach. For him, it’s about staying healthy. He’s going to need lots of reps and get to play.
“The good thing is we don’t have to rush him with our depth on D, but he looks really good right now.”
In the meantime, Olofsson said he’s trying to learn from the Wild defensemen.
“This is one of the best teams in the league on defense,” he said. “There’s a lot to learn from everybody.”
Niklas Backstrom, whose final start last season came Jan. 13 when Devan Dubnyk was acquired the next day, posted a 28-save shutout in his first start following offseason elbow surgery.
Backstrom stopped all 25 shots he faced in regulation, including Thomas Raffl on a breakaway and Blake Wheeler with an outstretched right pad. In 3-on-3 overtime, he stoned Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele on a breakaway and robbed Mathieu Perreault from point-blank range.
“It’s fun to play,” Backstrom said. “That’s why you practice and work hard, to be out there with the guys and compete.”
The Wild might have to start the season with three goalies unless GM Chuck Fletcher can make a trade.
“I can’t really control what’s going to happen,” Backstrom said.
Whatever happens, Yeo was impressed by his goaltender’s play.
“Some shutouts are made by not stopping a ton of quality chances, but this one he made a lot of real key saves through the course of the night,” Yeo said.
A winner for Dumba
Defenseman Matt Dumba’s preseason debut was capped with the overtime winner with 47 seconds left. Justin Fontaine threaded him the pass and Dumba roofed a backdoor shot.
Still, Dumba didn’t seem overly thrilled with his overall game, but he said he’ll grow toward opening night.
“If you think back to even this time last year, we probably would have been pretty happy with that game,” Yeo said. “But that’s what he’s done. He’s raised the bar so high. Given what we know now of what he’s capable of, it’s probably an OK game for him.”