Ever since former captain Derian Hatcher retired, the Dallas Stars seem to have been searching for that physical force on their blue line. There have been a few defensemen that could bring the hurt, but none seemed ever really comfortable or able to fill that role. Then with the 14th pick in the 2011 draft, Dallas selected Jamie Oleksiak, a hulking 252 pound, 6’7′ monster defenseman. Almost immediately, comparisons to not only Hatcher, but the modern pillar of defense, Zdeno Chara began.
As injuries took their toll on the Dallas defense corps over the last few seasons, Oleksiak got his chances, and didn’t look great. In all fairness, he wasn’t terrible either. For some unknown reason, Oleksiak didn’t seem to be looking to use his size to his advantage. He didn’t exactly shy away from contact, but for a guy who has a height advantage over all but six other NHL’ers, the fact that the Big Rig wasn’t looking to hit seemed to infuriate fans.
Then a funny thing happened. In a relatively short timeframe, the Dallas prospect pipeline went from nearly empty to overflowing with talent. Suddenly the former first round pick wasn’t the top defensive prospect anymore. When injuries hit and Dallas called players up from Cedar Park, Oleksiak wasn’t called. Instead, players like Patrik Nemeth, Kevin Connauton and Cameron Gaunce got their opportunity.
Typically it takes defensemen a while to fill into NHL form. It is important to remember that Oleksiak is only 21 years old and only has two professional seasons under his belt. The defenders who have seemed to leapfrog over Oleksiak in the system are all older and have more professional experience. The good news is that with the exception of Nemeth (who seems a lock to make the roster), all those players have at least three professional seasons worth of experience and are now on the cusp of being NHL ready. Jordie Benn played three seasons for the Texas Stars and is now a fixture on the Dallas defense.
So does the Dallas roster have room for Oleksiak this season? That is entirely up to him, but he will have some stout competition. The first five spots are pretty much locked up in Alex Goligoski, Trevor Daley, Brenden Dillon (assuming he signs), Sergei Gonchar, and Benn. This leaves Oleksiak to compete with Nemeth, fan favorite Jyrki Jokipakka, Gaunce and Connauton for the sixth spot.
General manager Jim Nill has made a career of being patient with players and bringing them up when ready. If the Big Rig is ready, he will be on the roster, but it seems to me that he needs at least one more season down in the AHL. Nemeth seems ready to make the jump and at this point, and Oleksiak would benefit more from playing a bigger role South of Dallas than limited NHL minutes. It seems that the return of Hatcher on the blue line is at least another season away.
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As always, I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading and go Stars!