TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan -- Dallas defense prospect Jamie Oleksiak has made an impression in his first two games at the NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan.
“The big man looks pretty good out here,” Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk said of the 6-7, 244 pound defenseman, the team’s first round pick (14th overall) in the 2011 NHL Draft.
The tournament is a good measuring stick for the 18-year-old.
“I’ve been looking forward to the opportunity ever since I was drafted by [the Stars],” said Oleksiak. “I am really going to take it as a learning experience, watching the guys that have had that opportunity to play professional hockey and see how I stack up against them. It should be a really great experience.”
He’s stacked up well the first two games. He scored a goal in game one, an 8-2 victory over Carolina. In the second game, a 6-2 loss to the New York Rangers, he helped set up Dallas’ first goal by forcing a turnover and then taking the puck to the net. Oleksiak has shown impressive mobility for a player with his size.
“I like the pace,” said Oleksiak. “As the week goes on I think I am getting more used to it and getting more accustomed to it.”
There will be more for Oleksiak to get accustomed to this season. This past summer he decided to make a change in the course of his hockey development. He left Northeastern University, where he played last season, and signed on to play with the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League.
“It was a decision I think he and his parents thought long and hard about. We didn’t influence that decision,” said Nieuwendyk. “Now that he is going to Saginaw it is an opportunity for him to play a lot of hockey and play against high level competition. It will be good growth for him”
Oleksiak already has had a little taste of the OHL. Before arriving in Traverse City he attended Saginaw’s training camp.
“It was really fast,” Oleksiak said of the Saginaw camp. “The guys are younger than college and some people argue that they are not as skilled, fast and as strong, but you go in there and there are a lot of great players, really strong guys.”
A big advantage going the junior hockey route is that Oleksiak will play in a league where the schedule mirrors what he’ll see at the pro level.
“The advantage is games,” said Stars Director of Scouting and Player Development Les Jackson. “It’s an NHL structured league. It’s the best place for him to learn the trade.”
OHL teams play 68 regular season games. Northeastern has 36 games on its schedule this season, not including the Hockey East Tournament.
“It’s a lot different than college, where you play 40 games maximum,” he said. “But it’s definitely going to be a good schedule. I think it is exactly what I need to hopefully play pro hockey one day. It should be a fun season. I think we have a good team. We should do well this year. I’m looking forward to it.
And there could be another new experience for Oleksiak this season. The Toronto native is in the running to play for Canada on the international stage, specifically the World Junior Championship. He had a strong showing at Canada’s National Junior Team Summer Development Camp, where he scored one goal and added an assist in the camp’s first intrasquad scrimmage.
“Canada always seems to have a great team and it’s a great program. You grow up looking up to those guys and learning from them,” Oleksiak said. “To put on that sweater and to be on the ice with those players is a huge opportunity for me. It looks like they should have a great team again and hopefully I’ll be able to contribute this December and January, but we’ll see what happens. Being there was a huge honor for me.”
But for now, Oleksiak has two more games in Traverse City and then another new experience is on the horizon – his first NHL training camp. After the prospect tournament wraps up he’ll head to Prince Edward Island for Dallas Stars training camp.
“That’s going to be another great thing for me. All I can do is do my best,” said Oleksiak. “It’s a huge honor for me to be out there playing with guys I grew up watching. I’m really excited about it. It will be another great learning experience for me going into next season and hopefully I can show Dallas I have a good game and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Based on what he’s shown at the Stars’ development camp, Canada’s World Junior camp and in Traverse City, the “big guy” looks like he is on the right path.