CHICAGO - The emails, texts and phone messages continue to fill up Ricky Olczyk's electronic devices. He plans to acknowledge every well-wisher.
"It's going to take me a while to answer all of them," says Olczyk.
One reason is because Olczyk hit the ground running as the new assistant general manager for NHL Seattle. He started the Tuesday after Labor Day, working remotely from his hometown in Chicago while his position was announced by the club later in the day.
Olczyk did make the time to sit down with NHL Seattle for a first interview about his new role. The meet-up was in Chicago, where team content makers were on hand to report on the NHL Player Media Tour event and conduct 1-on-1 interviews with more than 30 of the league's most intriguing stars.
READ: NHL Player Media Tour Unofficially Kicks Off 2019-20 Season
The wide-ranging interview features Olczyk's views on the types of players NHL Seattle will be seeking at the NHL Expansion Draft in 2021, plus future entry level drafts, free agent signings, trades and more. Aligned with GM Ron Francis and Director of Hockey Administration Alexandra Mandrycky, "Ricky O" talked about hockey skills (skating, shooting, passing) and hockey IQ (anticipating where the puck is headed, smart positioning on ice), plus some specific intangibles.
"We are looking players who are willing to block shots, play with passion, win battles [in front of the net and along the boards] and use their body to get to loose pucks," Olczyk says. "We appreciate the players who do this for their teams on a daily basis."
One task at hand is scouting amateur and pro players as the hockey season is fast approaching. Olczyk explains the difficult tasks sizing up young amateur players-including 16-year-olds who will become eligible for NHL Seattle's first NHL Entry Draft in June 2021: Those scouts are assigned with projecting a player's potential, often before the athlete is fully grown and certainly before hockey skills and especially a professional mindset is finished developing.
NHL Seattle's new assistant GM expanded on forming the pro-ready game of defensemen (which you might hear called a "blue liner" because they typically stay back near the blue line when their teams are on the attack in the opposing team's defensive zone.
"As a general rule, defensemen take longer to develop," says Olczyk. "There is an adjustment period [at the NHL level]: When to take body, when to attack in front, your head's on a swivel, there is lots to think about."
Olczyk says the speed of players, especially forwards, in today's NHL is a huge challenge for defensemen. One example: Defensemen have to pivot quickly, sharply and frequently to turn opponents away from the net and scoring chances.
But Olczyk adds that defensemen are arriving at the pro level with the ability to skate faster themselves.
"They are 17 and 18-year-olds who are big and mobile," he says. "They move quickly and think the game well."
GM Ron Francis says Olczyk is a "good thinker" himself.
"We are certainly going to benefit from his legal knowledge and his background of building teams," says Francis.
Francis knows the Olczyk family quite well. He worked with Ricky O for four years in Carolina and played with brother Eddie two seasons in Pittsburgh. Francis got to know Ricky and Eddie's parents and is quick to praise Mrs. Olczyk's Italian cooking, especially her meatballs.
The brothers Olczyk certainly talk hockey when they gather around a dinner table. Hockey fans know "Eddie O" as a former NHL player and premier analyst for NHL broadcasts, working alongside Mike "Doc" Emrick for national games on NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network. His brother Ricky, with a law degree from Cornell and hockey captain of another Ivy League school, Brown University, is 10 years in as an assistant GM for Edmonton and Carolina. Now Seattle starts the second decade.
"I have great respect and admiration for Eddie," says Ricky O. "I tap into his thoughts on players, systems and coaches. I have always asked him questions. He is honest and he has a real good eye. We don't always agree; I'm not sure if that is a brother thing… but we always have a mutual respect and passion for the game."