Jamie Oleksiak’s first professional goal got a fair amount of attention, but there were other things he did in that particular game that caught the attention of his coaches. They were things that helped the big man make a big impact on the game for the Texas Stars.
“He won his one-on-one battles on the boards. He was hard to play against. He was a presence without the puck,” said Texas assistant coach Doug Lidster. “Those are the things that often don’t get recognized and so they often don’t get reinforced. Those are good things that he did and we have to continue to reinforce the things that he does without the puck to add that to his game. When he does that, I see him becoming a player that can basically control the game because of his physical skills.”
Oleksiak has a lot of skill, especially for a man his size. Listed at 6-foot-7, 254 pounds, Oleksiak can skate and handle the puck. You can’t teach size and reach, and Oleksiak uses both those assets well.
His mobility was on display when he scored that first professional goal. Oleksiak joined the rush, took a drop pass from Cody Eakin and scored the game-winning goal on a wrist shot from the right circle in Texas’ 3-1 victory over Milwaukee on October 24.
“I like his overall game,” said Texas head coach Willie Desjardins. “He’s such a big man, so strong and he moves well at that size. He passes the puck well. For a big man, he is pretty smooth.”
Through 13 games this season, Oleksiak has 5 points (1 goal, 4 assists), and he’s tied for the team lead in scoring among defensemen with NHL veteran Cam Barker.
“It’s going pretty well. I think, personally, I’ve developed and matured as a player,” said Oleksiak. “Obviously, the team has hit a couple of rough patches, but that’s part of the game. We have a young team and a bunch of new guys on the roster. It’s a matter of the team developing, and finding my niche with the guys and for us to find a way to win.”
The Toronto native isn’t afraid to push things when it comes to helping find ways for the Stars to win. He’s shown a willingness to use his mobility and puck skills to join the rush in an attempt to create some offense for the Texas Stars.
“As the games go on, I am a little more confident in my abilities to play with players at this level,” said Oleksiak. “With that confidence, you have to be careful not to try to do too much. Obviously, I want to do what I can to help the team win. I am a defenseman first and I have to watch my defensive responsibilities first and not get out of position too much. I like jumping in the play and making something happen.”
Desjardins said that jumping into plays is a double-edged sword at this very early point of Oleksiak’s professional career.
“It’s both a strength and weakness for him,” Desjardins said. “It’s a strength because he’s really confident. It’s a weakness because he just thinks things are going to happen. Sometimes this is a different league than juniors and you don’t recognize that sometimes. That’s just a learning process. He’s certainly good, he’s got great confidence and he’s a good young man as well.”
Oleksiak, Dallas’ first round pick (14th overall) in 2011, won’t turn 20 until next month. His path to the pro ranks took him through two seasons in the USHL, one season at Northeastern University and one season in the Ontario Hockey League, where he played for both the Saginaw Spirit and the Niagara IceDogs. He could have played another season in juniors, but Dallas thought he was ready for the pro ranks and has moved him along quickly. Now, it’s just a matter of getting experience at the pro level.
“He really has a big upside to his game, and does some things really, really well,” said Desjardins. “I think the one thing he needs is more consistency in his game. You always say guys need experience and the way you get experience is by playing. There is no shortcut to that and that’s what he needs. He needs to play and keep working at his game, but his top level is certainly a high level. He can be a really good player.”
Oleksiak said playing with consistency has been his biggest adjustment making the jump to the AHL from the OHL.
“You have to focus on every game and every shift. Guys here will finish any opportunity you give them, so every shift you have to focus on your defensive responsibilities,” he said. “You have to make sure you are focusing on your job and doing everything you can do keep the puck out of the net, and create chances for your offense.”
Off the ice, there’s been an adjustment for Oleksiak as well. He’s trying to develop some consistency there as well. Roommate Alex Chiasson handles most of the cooking and Oleksiak is in charge of the dishes, something he admits he has been “lousy” at on occasion.
“(Chiasson) is good at letting me know and making sure I contribute to the roomie relationship,” said Oleksiak.
But the big defenseman said he is making progress on the dishwashing duty, and adjusting to living on his own.
“You don’t realize how tough living on your own will be until bills start coming in. I didn’t know how to cook. If I wasn’t living with Chiasson, I would be completely lost,” Oleksiak said. “It’s just little things. Finding meals during the day, making sure bills get paid and making sure the place stays clean. You don’t have billets. You’re not in college where you can go to a cafeteria. It’s been a learning experience, especially the early part of the year. But I am finally getting in a routine and finding my way. It’s definitely going to help me at this level and the next, if I get the chance.”
And there is every belief that the chance to play at that next level – the NHL – will come. It will take some time as Oleksiak gains experience, but the belief is it will come.
“He’s a highly skilled big man. There are not too many guys his size that skate as well as he does and handle the puck as well as he does,” said Lidster. “He has all those good physical skills. He’s making the adjustment to the pro game, and there is an adjustment there. The future looks bright for him.”
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