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Olvestad a mature player for his age

At 21, left wing needs little mentoring and impresses Tampa Bay with speed, defense and work ethic.

By BRUCE LOWITT, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 29, 2001


At 21, left wing needs little mentoring and impresses Tampa Bay with speed, defense and work ethic.

TAMPA -- Jimmie Olvestad scored his first NHL goal barely 14 minutes into his career, Tampa Bay's first goal in its season opener.

To the casual Lightning fan who may have heard a bit about Olvestad, that goal may not have been much of a surprise considering he scored seven in last season's Swedish Elite League playoffs to help lead Djurgarden to the championship.

To the average Swede, that was very surprising, considering Olvestad scored seven goals in Djurgarden's 50-game regular season.

Which may help explain, going into tonight's game with the Bruins, Olvestad's goals in the Lightning's 35 games since the opener: none.

"I've never been a goal scorer," Olvestad, 21, said. "I had a great playoffs but I never thought I'd score 20 goals in the NHL. It's always frustrating when you don't score. ... I know (the goals) will come. I just have to keep working harder, trying harder."

Not that he was drafted by Tampa Bay in the fourth round in 1999 for his scoring potential. He is a left wing whose strengths are defense, speed and, most of all, smarts.

Olvestad played hockey and soccer as a boy in suburban Stockholm. His half-brother, Robin Jalkerud, 14, also plays hockey. More accurately, he is consumed by it. "I played with friends," Olvestad said, "but I was never a hockey freak. Not like my brother. He's way worse. "I had to choose what I wanted to play (at 16). I could have done either but I felt I had a better chance to have a career in hockey.

"It was a hard choice to make. I don't know if it's destiny, but obviously it seems to have worked out good."

Most rookies, except the highly-touted ones, work their way onto an NHL roster after some seasoning in the minors or juniors. That was the route the Lightning thought Olvestad would take when he arrived in training camp.

But it became apparent Olvestad's future had arrived with him. "He was a guy that in my mind wasn't in our plans right away with this team when we were putting the rosters together for camp," coach John Tortorella said. "(General manager) Rick Dudley felt Jimmie was ready to play in the NHL, and from Day 1 in camp he's been a pleasant surprise."

Tortorella said Olvestad needs to score "if he wants to be a good player in this league. People who are responsible defensively also need to chip in goals. And he's trying to put pressure on himself to do it."

Olvestad has had no difficulty making the transition from the European style of hockey, a wide-open faster-paced game more dependent on passing, to the North American game, more physical with a lot of dump-and-chase rushes over the blue line.

"I didn't have to adjust to the tempo that much because I can get (to the puck) so fast," he said.

Besides, there was the matter of three years in Sweden's Elite League. "It's a higher level than a lot of the guys who come right to the NHL from juniors," he said. "But I'm also trying to play a simpler game here, more simple than in Sweden. I don't want to try to do too much; you can end up making big mistakes."

Center Tim Taylor, acquired by Tampa Bay from the Rangers in the offseason, plays on the line with Olvestad. Taylor, an eight-season veteran with the Red Wings, Bruins and Rangers, was brought in to win faceoffs, neutralize scorers and provide maturity and guidance to the youth-laden Lightning.

He has not had to do too much mentoring with Olvestad.

"He brings all the intangibles to the rink," Taylor said. "He has great speed. He works so hard that the other guys don't have a chance against him. With his work ethic, he's one of those players that, no matter how hard you try, you're not going to get him out of the lineup.

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