When Dylan Olsen heard the news last month that he was traded from the Chicago Blackhawks to the Panthers, it came as a surprise but represented a fresh start.
The 22-year-old, selected 28th overall in the 2009 draft, found it tough to crack a veteran lineup in Chicago. In 28 games from 2011 through ’12, he recorded no goals, one assist and a minus-5 rating during an average ice time of 13 minutes 2 seconds per game.
“I looked at it as a huge opportunity to get my foot in the door and start establishing myself as an NHL defenseman,” said Olsen, who had never been to Florida. “They’ve given me every opportunity here, and it’s been going really well.”
After starting out in the minors — 19 games with the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage, where he had nine assists and no goals — Olsen earned a call-up Nov. 25 and has played in nine games.
Since Day One, coach Peter Horachek has paired Olsen with Erik Gudbranson. The pair played together for Team Canada at the world juniors a few years ago.
“They’re both big guys and we thought they could complement each other by playing in a lot of different situations,” Horachek said. “They’re both mobile enough, move the puck pretty well, so we thought it would be a good pairing.”
Olsen, who scored his first NHL goal Dec. 5 against the Jets, is on a career-long, five-game point streak.
During that stretch, he has three goals, including the first of Friday night’s victory over the Capitals, three assists and a plus-4 rating. Over his first 32 career games, Olsen never had points in back-to-back games.
Gudbranson, 21, is now in his third season with Florida. He is just one point away from equaling his career high (8) and already has played one more game (33) than he did in the 2012-13 season.
“The biggest key to our success has been our communication,” said Gudbranson, who reached out to Olsen when he arrived. “We’ve been able to talk on the ice, read each other very well. If something goes bad we know what happens and we talk about it on the bench before our next shift.”
Through that communication, Gudbranson and Olsen have been able to shut down other team’s top lines and in turn set up their own offensive opportunities.
With a young foundation of players around him, Olsen seems to feed off the energy. It’s no coincidence the team has won four of its past five with their emergence.
“You look at the young guys — it’s just a good young core of guys — barely getting into the league and trying to establish ourselves,” Olsen said. “It helps to have younger guys around. We get to hang out with each other, become buddies and again [it] makes the whole process a lot easier.
“The boys have been working hard, putting some wins together, and that’s what we need to get up on that playoff race. We just have to keep battling and put wins together.”
This and that
• Tim Thomas, who had started 14 of the past 15 games, missed Friday’s win and will miss at least the next few games after being placed on injured reserve Saturday.
Thomas apparently re-injured his groin in practice Thursday at BB&T Center and won't be eligible to play until Friday at Winnipeg. Florida will go with Scott Clemmensen and Jacob Markstrom for at least its first three games of this four-game Canadian road trip. Thomas is with the team.
“He’s going on the trip,” Horachek said. “He’s day-to-day. Hope to get him back on the trip.”
• Horachek doesn’t expect Gudbranson to be suspended after receiving a match penalty for a high elbow on Eric Fehr in the second period of Friday’s game.
Gudbranson got five minutes for his subsequent fight with Troy Brouwer and was ejected for aiming for Fehr's head. Since Gudbranson was slapped with a match penalty April 11 for a hit, he could be suspended for Friday's incident.
“I don’t have anything official, but [Friday] night they kind of sided with us and thought it seemed to go in that direction where it maybe shouldn’t even have been a penalty,” Horachek said. “It’s tough on the ice for the referees. It happens very fast and a guy goes down like that and immediately with all the attention that goes into hits to the head and so forth there’s a lot of attention to that. It’s a tough call.”