Grove: Jamie Oleksiak A Really Good Fit For Penguins

The Pens defenseman is on his first four-game point streak

Bob Grove
November 01, 2018 - 11:17 am

© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Related: Grove: Rust Is Better Than We've Seen So Far This Season

PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) - When defenseman Jamie Oleksiak picked up an assist on Sidney Crosby’s goal against the Islanders Tuesday, he had the first four-game points streak of his NHL career.

He wakes up today with as many points as Erik Karlsson and more points than Roman Josi.

None of this, of course, is going to last. But what seems likely to persist is the notion that Oleksiak, the hulking 6-7, 255-pound Toronto native who turns 26 next month, is a really good fit for the Penguins.

Acquired (you’re tempted to say stolen, but it’s still too early for that) from Dallas in a trade 11 months ago that gives the Stars a fourth-round pick next June, Oleksiak is turning out to be the prototypical “needs a change of scenery” player who finds his way by losing his old address.

After five years in Dallas, where he never played more than 41 NHL games in a season and was getting AHL time just three seasons ago, Oleksiak has been a solid bottom-pairing defenseman with the Penguins. He’s +21 in 56 regular season games with Pittsburgh; has played both sides for coach Mike Sullivan; has already dropped the gloves seven times for the Penguins, a skill that has seriously faded from importance but remains needed on occasions; and he’s added a surprising amount of modest offensive support.

This is why the Penguins more that doubled his cap hit in the summer, signing him for three years at a $2.1 million. When you’re a team that pushes the cap limits every year, signing a player you view as dependable in his mid-20s for $2.1 million is always a good thing.

A left-handed shot who’s been playing the right side with Olli Maatta – his assignment may change if Kris Letang returns as expected tonight on Long Island – Oleksiak is giving Sullivan a pretty solid 16 minutes a night. He’s not a big thumper but uses his size to neutralize opponents along the boards. He uses his reach to free pucks and gather them in, and he’s not afraid to go ahead and jump into the play on a team whose forwards will make plays with him.

He’s got a surprising skating gear and a very good shot for a player whose offensive numbers would never suggest that. Yet Oleksiak is still close enough to the edge of the lineup to appreciate the opportunity he has created for himself here in Pittsburgh, and that no doubt helps drive his play. Just three weeks ago in Montreal, after all, he was a healthy scratch for the first time with the Penguins.

The Penguins don’t need him to do anything fancy. They need him to clean up his own end, add some muscle in front of the net, get pucks to forwards and use his ability to play either the left or right side when they need it. They’re not asking him for any special teams minutes, and they’re certainly not expecting him to run the second power play unit or depending on him to show up on the scoresheet.

That’s just what he’s doing at the moment, as he’s almost halfway to matching his career-high 17 points from last season. All of which is kind of symbolic, since Oleksiak’s all-around game might just be giving the Penguins a little more than they – or anyone else – expected when they added him.

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