When the Florida Panthers sent underachieving forward Kris Versteeg to the Chicago Blackhawks for Jimmy Hayes and Dylan Olsen, Cats' fans first got a look at the giant-sized Hayes, who most at the time deemed the more NHL-ready of the two prospects. Olsen simply moved south from AHL Rockford to the San Antonio Rampage.
After three games with the Rampage, the injury bug opened a spot on the Panthers blue line and Olsen was called up to the bigs for the first time since the 2011-12 season, when he appeared in 28 games with the Blackhawks. To say he is making the most of the opportunity would be a serious understatement.
The 22-year-old defender picked up an assist against the Philadelphia Flyers in his Florida debut, went scoreless over the next three, and since then, has picked up an impressive seven points in his last seven games, including a helper on Tomas Fleischmann's opening goal in last night's important 3-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club the Panthers are trying to chase down for the Eastern Conference's final wildcard spot.
By posting eight points (3G/5A) in eleven games, the Salt Lake City native is unexpectedly shedding the defensive-defenseman label with his offensive outburst at hockey's highest level. That's not to say Olsen hasn't been sound in his own end. He has teamed with Erik Gudbranson to give the Cats a rock-solid second pairing, and is a one of only a handful of Panthers to currently sport a plus rating.
The offensive numbers are more than a bit of a surprise coming from Olsen, who only totaled 31 points in the 155 games he spent apprenticing in the AHL after he left Minnesota-Duluth to sign with Chicago. In his brief stint with the Blackhawks, he only managed a single assist. His first NHL goal finally came in the Panthers 5-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets on December 5th.
The Versteeg trade freed Olsen from the organizational logjam he faced with the deeper Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, which kept him stuck in Rockford, biding his time with the IceHogs. He has repaid the Panthers and Dale Tallon, who originally tabbed Olsen in the first round (28th overall) of the 2009 Entry Draft, in spades by quickly ascending from San Antonio and making a considerable impact in the Cats' recent turnaround. Fellow trade piece Hayes has acquitted himself admirably as well, posting three goals in seventeen games while adding size and a physical presence to the Panthers' bottom-six, but so far, Olsen has been the revelation in what is looking to be a pretty shrewd deal by Florida's GM and blueprint commandant.