Oleksiak Has Skill-Set To Match Giant Size
Wednesday, 06.08.2011 / 1:54 PM / 2011 NHL Draft
So what should the tallest draft-eligible defenseman look forward to at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft?
One thing's certain -- any general manager in the market for a shut-down blueliner with a natural-born instinct to intimidate should look no further than 6-foot-7, 244-pound Jamieson Oleksiak.
There's no question the site of Oleksiak, on or off the ice, conjures images of current NHL stars like 6-foot-9 Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and 6-foot-8 Tyler Myers of the Buffalo Sabres.
But is it fair to compare an 18-year-old who just finished his first year at Northeastern University to a five-time NHL All-Star in the 34-year-old Chara?
"Chara is someone I try and look up to and emulate and model my play after," Oleksiak told NHL.com. "I think we have a lot of similarities. Obviously the size is a big factor, but I'm learning how to use my size more and kind of use his style of play and his ability to intimidate and finish checks and be a solid defensive player. At the same time, be mobile and move the puck well and contribute offensively. I think we do have a lot of the same similarities and abilities to contribute all over the ice."
NHL Network analyst Craig Button feels Oleksiak may be ahead of where Chara was in his draft year; he was selected by the New York Islanders in the third round of the 1996 Draft.
"I saw Chara play at that age and Oleksiak is way more developed and does possess better coordination than Chara had," Button told NHL.com. "A 6-foot-7 defenseman with the skill of Oleksiak doesn't come very often. There's a big development window in front of him. I could see three or four years down the road, NHL teams that passed on him might be saying 'We should have taken him.'"
One scout from an Eastern Conference team thinks Oleksiak is going to be awfully tough to pass up for any team in the opening round.
"He's so big and his size is such an advantage … he has a long reach and can pass the puck," the scout told NHL.com. "How good can he be? We don't know because sometimes big guys need some time. But he has some advantages over a lot of guys -- he's big, has a good stick and can move the puck. Over time, he'll become more offensive."
Despite a disappointing loss to Boston College in the Beanpot Tournament final, Oleksiak managed to have an extremely productive season by playing a big role on Northeastern's back end.
He finished with a team-best plus-13 rating, was the team's second-highest scoring defenseman with 13 points (4 goals, 9 assists) and averaged 1.36 shots per game. He was the second-youngest player invited to Team USA's final camp for the 2011 World Junior Championship, but didn't make the team.
"I think he has unbelievable upside," NHL Central Scouting's Gary Eggleston said. "Whoever gets him is probably going to hit a home run with this kid. You could be looking at a 15- to 16-year player in the League, and to get a kid that size and skates that well is not common. He handles the puck well, has an excellent shot and his pass percentage completion in two games I saw was 100 percent -- he never missed. He covers a lot of ice in a very short time and it's a long trip around the outside with that wing span of his. He always has that stick out there dangling, too, so he keeps the guys about eight feet away."
Oleksiak was in the cross-hairs of each of the scouts at Central Scouting down the stretch. He jumped 14 spots from the mid-term rankings to No. 13 on the final ranking of North American skaters in April.
"I wasn't getting that much recognition coming into the season while I was finding my way into the lineup," Oleksiak said. "But that was a huge accomplishment for me. I was proud of that and it's a satisfying feeling knowing that your hard work and dedication is paying off and you're getting recognized … it's something I'm proud of."
For Oleksiak, the biggest key was being able to use his giant frame to its fullest advantage. It's been a learning process for him, as he grew three inches in a span of two years prior to his 14th birthday.
"It was very important to use my size to create and take away plays," Oleksiak said. "I guess a big thing is being more of an intimidating factor. Coming into college, I used to pick and choose my spots to make a hit or to get into a guy's face but Coach Cronin encouraged me to step into a guy after they take a shot or make a pass. He just wanted me to be more gritty and more tenacious on a more consistent basis.
"We worked on ways to use my stick and position myself in the defensive zone. When I'm able to use my size and stick the right way, I can steer guys away from scoring chances and scoring areas, shut down plays, force turnovers and go the other way."
Oleksiak exhibited plenty of composure this year, as well. Prior to entering Northeastern, he split time with the Chicago Steel and Sioux Fall Stampede of the United States Hockey League in 2009-10, totaling six fights and 75 penalty minutes in 53 games. In his first collegiate season, however, Oleksiak had to learn to control his aggression, since dropping the gloves would earn him an automatic one-game suspension plus an NCAA review. It was a tough adjustment, but Oleksiak learned to cope -- 21 of his 23 penalties were minors and he picked up 57 penalty minutes in 38 games.
"At first it was frustrating and I think I learned quickly to control that anger and try to channel it to other areas of my game, whether that meant playing physical or more of an intimidating game," Oleksiak said. "A lot of guys tried to take liberties with me because of the rules, but I think I was quickly able to gain some respect. Instead of fighting, I'd finish a check or let that player know I'm there. I just had to become a factor in other areas; more of an imposing force."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale