When the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Jamie Oleksiak, no one seemed to understand the meaning of the deal since they already had seven active defensemen on the roster. With the addition of Oleksiak came eight active blueliners, meaning another hard decision for a healthy scratch.
The Penguins viewed him as a project and a player they can try to turn his young career around after struggles with Dallas. Here’s a look at why he’s fit in since coming over from the Dallas Stars.
Jamie Oleksiak Fitting in Nicely With the Penguins
Sheltered on Bottom Pair
Oleksiak isn’t going to be a player that plays top pairing minutes or even middle-pairing minutes. He’s played on the bottom pairing in Pittsburgh and has been effective logging around 18 minutes a night. Here’s a look at what he did Sunday night against the New York Rangers:
14 shot attempts for
7 scoring chances for
This is becoming a normal performance for him.
— Jesse Marshall (@jmarshfof) January 15, 2018
That is outstanding for Oleksiak and he’s doing this while being paired up with Matt Hunwick. Hunwick has been the team’s worst defenseman this season as he’s struggled to fit to what the Penguins do and has been a turnover machine. It’s still very impressive and speaks volumes to how good Oleksiak has been on the bottom pair. His possession numbers have also improved since coming over. In Dallas, his CF% was just 49.1% but it’s skyrocketed in Pittsburgh. It’s up to 53.8% despite it only being 11 games.
It’s all been welcoming returns so far and his pairing partner will likely change at some point. Ian Cole won’t stay in the press box forever which means Hunwick would likely come out of the lineup.
His Booming Shot
Oleksiak has a cannon of a shot and not a lot of people knew that before. He was able to show it off with a goal past Tuukka Rask in a wild game just before their bye week:
Rask seemed like he was fooled by the shot as part of his body went the other way. However, it was still a rocket from Oleksiak to get his second goal with Pittsburgh. His first goal came at the end of the Philadelphia Flyers game when the contest was basically already over. He’s been close to scoring a couple other goals this year as well and the one against Rask likely won’t be the last slap shot he scores this season.
Even though he has a massive slap shot, Oleksiak has also had a couple other really nice goals. Although this one came while with the Stars, this is a heck of a deke for someone his size:
We may not see him make that kind of move with the Penguins but he moves the puck awfully well for someone who’s 6’7”.
His work with Sergei Gonchar
Sergei Gonchar was a part-time assistant coach for the Penguins last season but was elevated to a full-time position this season. He’s one of the defenseman coaches and works closely with them. He’s one of the biggest reasons why Justin Schultz was able to be much better in Pittsburgh. His work with Oleksiak is starting to show as well.
In Dallas, Oleksiak didn’t do much offensively but that’s changed since playing with the Penguins. He’s led the breakout plenty of times and pinched in the offensive zone a lot more often as well. Oleksiak even cleaned up his defensive work too as he’s hardly turned the puck over that’s resulted in goals against. His 5v5 numbers have never been that impressive but they are up a bit this year than they were last year. In addition, his 5v5 points per 60 last season was 0.45 and this year it’s 0.59. Oleksiak is also likely going to set a career high in points as the most he’s had in a season is eight. He’s already at seven, four of them coming with the Penguins.
He’s still only a handful of games into his Penguins tenure but Oleksiak has brought very promising returns and it’ll be interesting to see how he keeps playing.