On each weekday between now and the first round of the NHL Entry Draft on June 24, we'll be profiling one of 11 players who could be chosen with the 12th overall pick by Carolina. Today's subject is Northeastern University defenseman Jamieson Oleksiak. Previously: Sven Bartschi | Nathan Beaulieu | Jonas Brodin | Sean Couturier | Oscar Klefbom | Ryan Murphy Also see: Hurricanes Draft History.
Plenty of draft-eligible players have size, but Jamieson Oleksiak is something else altogether.
At 6-foot-7 and 244 pounds, the Northeastern University defenseman is easily the biggest player in this draft, as he would be in just about all others. While that alone has made scouts take notice, it’s unique athleticism and a better-than-expected skill set for his frame that makes him a candidate to be a high pick.
“It’s pretty remarkable for him to be as physically developed as he is at this stage,” said Jason Karmanos, the Hurricanes’ vice president and assistant general manager. “He’s over 240 pounds but below 8 percent body fat, so it’s all good weight.”
Oleksiak, whose father ran track in college and was a three-sport star in high school, solidified his standing as a first-round pick at the recent scouting combine.
“He had a very impressive showing,” said Karmanos. “It was the kind of thing you’re used to seeing at the NFL combine rather than the NHL.”
Due to his size and position, Oleksiak draws natural comparisons to Zdeno Chara, who just captained Boston to a Stanley Cup, and Tyler Myers, the 2010 NHL Rookie of the Year who was drafted at No. 12 – where the Hurricanes will be picking in this year - in 2008. Those analogies aren’t perfect, as Oleksiak isn’t as naturally aggressive as Chara or as good of a skater as Myers, although he’s certainly no slouch in either area.
“He skates pretty well for a big man, and he’s aggressive enough to make his presence known,” said Tony MacDonald, the Hurricanes’ chief amateur scout.
Oleksiak, a dual citizen who has yet to make an international commitment to the United States or Canada, enjoyed a strong first season in college, as his stature allowed him to make more of an impact than most true freshman can muster against older players. He scored 13 points (4g, 9a) for Northeastern in addition to a team-best plus-13 plus/minus rating.
“It’s not easy because a lot of the freshmen coming in now are not just 18-year-olds – there’s a lot of 20- and 21-year-olds now,” said MacDonald. “He came in as a bona fide freshman and had a pretty good year. All that augurs well for this guy and helped enhance his development.”
Throw in good puckhandling and passing, it’s fair to wonder why Oleksiak isn’t a lock to be long gone by the time the Hurricanes step to the podium. While impressive, his season likely doesn’t match up to others at the very top of the draft. Thought of as more of an upside pick than a sure thing, where he gets drafted will depend more on how teams view his enormous potential.
“If you take Oleksiak, you’re hoping that his game continues to mature,” said Karmanos. “You would think just with his size and his skating ability alone that he will play, but I don’t think his play has indicated that he’s a star projection as of yet. Otherwise, he would probably be firmly in the top five.”
“You could say that he’s a work in progress,” said MacDonald. “It’s how you decide to project him as a player. Some teams may take a more conservative approach and some teams may think he’s more advanced. It’s just trying to determine how good he’s going to be and how much of an impact he’s going to make.”
That should make Oleksiak one of the more intriguing players on draft day, as teams may either elect to go with safer picks or find it too difficult to pass on his upside. At least a few of the teams that shied away from Myers, who fell further than expected in his draft, now likely wish they hadn’t.
“Like most young defensemen he’s got some things to learn about the game, but he’s got a huge head start to getting to the NHL just based on his physical stature and strength,” said Karmanos.
“It’s safe to say we certainly haven’t seen the best of his game yet,” said MacDonald.