Jamie Oleksiak has been in the NHL less than two weeks, and he’s feeling a little more comfortable with each game he plays.
“It’s been a good experience so far,” said Oleksiak. “There’s been an adjustment period I’ve been going through right now, just getting used to the pace and getting used to playing with the new team. It’s been going well and I think every game I have been getting a little better.”
Oleksiak has played five games since being recalled from the AHL late last month. He has no points and is averaging 15:39 of ice time. The Stars like what they see so far from the guy called “The Big Rig.”
“I think his game has been steadier and he looks more confident every game. We like what he is doing,” said Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “He’s a big body and we want him to play physical and deaden cycles for us and end plays quickly. Like any young guy, he’s got a lot to learn, but his confidence from game to game looks like it is getting better and better.”
Oleksiak, a Toronto native, was the Stars’ first round pick (14th overall) in the 2011, NHL Entry Draft. He is considered by many to be the team’s top prospect. Defenseman Alex Goligoski, one of Oleksiak’s partners on the blue line over the past five games, offered a quick scouting report.
“There’s the obvious,” Goligoski said with a grin as he glanced over at the 6-7, 254-pound Oleksiak in the Stars’ locker room. “He’s smart. He’s a smart player. With his physical attributes he is extremely hard to play against I would imagine. Forwards have no time around him. He has the long stick, the long reach and he’s a good skater. He makes it real hard on people.”
This has been year of big transitions for Oleksiak, who turned 20 in December. It’s his first year of pro hockey, so he in the fall he was making the transition from the junior ranks to the American Hockey League and now in February he’s been making the transition from the AHL to the NHL.
“This has been similar to my transition to the AHL at first. You are getting a feel for the game. Playing a simple, smart defensive game and trying to do my best in terms of that,” Oleksiak said. “The speed and pace of the game (is the biggest adjustment). You have so much less time to make decisions with the puck. At this level you can’t make any mistakes. Once you make a turnover or miss a pass, guys will turn right around and get a scoring chance, and they don’t miss on many of those. It’s just keeping it simple and making sure you’re making the easy, fast pass.
“As I progress, get more experience and get more comfortable with the puck, my skating and confidence in my game, then I can start being more aggressive in terms of plays on the ice.”
Once Oleksiak settled in with the Texas Stars his play took off. He had 23 points (3 goals, 20 assists) and a plus-12 rating in 43 games with Texas. Fans voted him in as a starter in the AHL All-Star Game, and he was named the AHL’s Rookie of the Month for January.
For now, Oleksiak is still getting his feet wet in the NHL, and hoping to continue that steady improvement he’s shown over his first five games.
“It’s been a lot of fun, and I am just doing my best to help the team win,” said Oleksiak. “The guys have been great, the coaches have been phenomenal and I’ve just got to keep on the upwards slope as far as development.”