Dylan Olsen, The Panthers’ Early Christmas Present

With Christmas just under two weeks away, the Florida Panthers have already unwrapped a big present as newly acquired defenseman Dylan Olsen has brought consistency and a surprising offensive element to a previously struggling blueline.

Drafted 28th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Olsen, 22, polished his game while playing collegiately for the University of Minnesota-Duluth and later for the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate, the Rockford Icehogs. Already one of the NHL’s top defensive prospects, Olsen waited several years to crack the Blackhawks’ lineup even after continued strong AHL and training camp showings.

However, even as frustrations grew while laying in wait, Olsen never felt slighted and was quick to praise Blachawks’ exceptional depth at his position.

“You just have to look at the lineup they have, (Duncan) Keith, (Brent) Seabrook, these guys are Olympic gold medalists. Then they have young guys like (Nick) Leddy who has obviously established himself as an NHL player,” Olsen said of the Blackhawks’ loaded blueline. “It’s tough lineup to crack. They have so much depth in that organization.”

Though he never became a regular, Olsen was still able to compete in 28 games and one playoff appearance for the Blackhawks while filling in for injured teammates. In those 28 games, Olsen recorded one assist and registered six PIMs. Though his stay in the NHL was shorter than he had hoped, Olsen credited his brief stint with the team as a sign that he could compete and belonged in the NHL.

Then, on November 14, 2013, Olsen would finally get his chance to standout as the Blackhawks’ sent both he and teammate F Jimmy Hayes to the Panthers’ in exchange for veteran winger Kris Versteeg. Initially sent to the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage, a promise from Panthers’ General Manager Dale Tallon let Olsen know his time would soon come.

“The first night it happened, Dale (Tallon) called me and said we’re going to send you to San Antonio right now, but obviously we’re going to give you an opportunity to play up here,” Olsen said.

A man of his word, Tallon recalled Olsen from San Antonio after just three games - a decision he would not regret. Wearing number four, Olsen made Panthers’ debut on November 25th against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Dylan Olsen & Erik Gudbranson (Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports)

Dylan Olsen & Erik Gudbranson (Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports)

Helping Olsen ease into his new role with the Panthers was a familiar face in the form of defenseman Erik Gudbranson. A former teammate of Olsen’s on Canada’s 2010 U-18 World Junior Championships squad, Gudbranson and Olsen looked as if they had been playing together for years as the duo combined for three points (1G-2A-3P) and several key defensive plays in their first game paired together.

“He was great. Extremely easy to play with,” Gudbranson said of his first game with Olsen.“We’ve already played together in a World Junior U-18 Tournament. We knew each other. We knew what to expect from each other. The biggest thing was we communicated so well on the ice. Every time I touched the puck I know where he was, he knew where I was.”

A standout player from start to finish, Olsen’s stat line for his debut consisted of an impressive +2 rating, two blocked shots and an assist in 19:10 total TOI as the Panthers defeated the Flyers 3-1. 

Since that first showing, Olsen has yet to regress from the high level of play that has already endeared him to the Panther faithful.

In eight games for the Panthers’ this season, Olsen has totaled six points (2G-4A-6P) while playing responsible defensive hockey in his own zone. On a team normally starved for offense, Olsen’s contributions have been a welcomed surprise to the Panthers - and to Olsen himself.

“I really don’t know,” Olsen said with a laugh when asked to explain his recent offensive outburst. “This has never happened before.”

Having already been tasked with shutting down star forwards like Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby and Pavel Datsyuk, Olsen’s life won’t be getting any easier tonight as the Panthers’ welcome the Washington Capitals and the NHL’s top goal scorer, Alex Ovechkin.

Although the Panthers will need to continue an arduous uphill battle to regain playoff relevance this season, Panthers’ head coach Peter Horachek has faith in both his team and Olsen.

“He’s a big kid, he has a good shot, he shoots the puck really well — he has a really good first pass and he does things assertively,” Horachek said. “Right now, I think he’s contributing in a positive way.”

Thanks for reading and we welcome your thoughts in the comments section below!

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