By Erica Whyte
It’s hard to get points in the American Hockey League. It’s even harder to get points as a rookie in this league. But Rasmus Asplund, who has tallied eight points in the last four games, is making it all look easy.
“I’m a hard-working, two-way center who can play on both ends of the ice. That's how I want to describe myself as a player, anyways,” said the 21-year-old Swedish forward.
“His hockey smarts are off the charts. He puts people in bad positions with how smart he is,” elaborated Amerks head coach Chris Taylor on Asplund skill-set.
A skill-set that has been curated over almost five years of professional hockey experience from a player who, up until three months ago, was too young to legally consume an alcoholic beverage in the United States.
Before signing a three-year, entry-level contract with the Buffalo Sabres and starting his rookie season as an Amerk, Asplund spent four years growing his game in the Swedish Hockey League. After a relatively quiet first-half of his first North American season, the 5-foot-11 playmaker is finally starting to see some tangible results.
“I’m developing as a player, and getting better every day, that’s what I want to do,” Said Asplund of his improvements. “Now I’m starting to get results on the ice, and that proves that I’ve been doing the right things out there and in the gym. It’s a nice boost in confidence to get awarded in points, too.”
Points that have recently been coming in droves. Tallying only one point through his first 16 games this year, Asplund tweaked his game. In the last nine games, he has notched 12. But Taylor insists that despite the results on the stat sheet, Asplund has always been this good.
AMERICANS MADE | RASMUS ASPLUND
“Sure, he’s playing a little bit better, but at the start of the year he was playing great, too,” said Taylor, whose team has won four straight and 10 of its last 12 heading into this weekend’s two-game set against the league-leading Charlotte Checkers. “Now, he’s just getting rewarded with the points, he’s getting more confidence, he’s shooting the puck more, which is opening up his wingers a little more, and you can tell that he’s picked up his pace, too. He’s getting more comfortable.”
Alongside linemates Danny O’Regan and fellow Swede and Amerks points leader Victor Olofsson, the trio quickly became one of this team’s most effective offensive groups.
“I wanted to put Asplund and Olofsson together because I just thought the two of them would hit it off,” said Taylor of his choice to create this deadly line. “Where they come from, how they came together, they’re both in their first year over here, so I thought it would make them comfortable to have each other to talk to. And I put O’Regan there because he’s really good in the corners, he can get pucks out, he’s got really good vision and he can score.”
According to Taylor, he didn’t initially anticipate that the combination he put together would end up being so effective.
“I didn’t realize what a good line it would be initially, as I was a little worried about the size and physicality of the three of them, but they’ve done a very good job on that,” Taylor said of the group, who are all under six feet. “But when you have the puck as much as they do, you don’t have to play defense. That’s why they’re such a good line.”
However, Asplund’s specific role on this line is perhaps his most significant contribution, and it has nothing to do with the scoresheet.
"He makes his teammates better, he makes me better,” said Olofsson, who has notched 53 points in 59 games alongside Asplund. “I’ve been playing with him all year and he gives me time and space. He makes it easier for me to play my game.”
But the bond between these Swedish linemates extends far beyond the rink. In addition to sharing the same heritage, the forwards both started their pro careers playing against each other in the SHL, they both signed entry-level contracts with the Sabres last summer and made the subsequent move the North America. Now, they’re roommates.
“We live in the same house, we’re on the same journey here,” daid Asplund of his connection to Olofsson. “We’re experiencing the same things and on the same path with our careers right now, so it’s nice to have each other to help each other out with everything.”
“It’s pretty cool to be able to go through this together” added Olofsson of their link. “It’s not easy to move halfway across the world to a new country, with a new language. It’s good to have someone go through the exact same thing as you, and we’ve become such close friends, too.”
Good friends, who share a common goal.
“Right now, we want to clinch a playoff spot, and hopefully we have a long playoff run,” said Asplund. “But long-term, I want to play for the Sabres and have a long NHL career. That’s my dream, and that’s what I’m working on every day.”
And according to Taylor, if Asplund keeps on the same path he’s on, those goals can become a reality.
“He’s got a really good future ahead of him,” said Taylor of the rookie. “He’s dedicated, he works hard, he loves the game, he’s genuinely happy all the time and he’s intelligent. This guy is headed to the NHL, and he’s making huge strides so far. He’s just continuing to get better.”