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Oleksiak wants to continue growing his game

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

When the Penguins first acquired Jamie Oleksiak from Dallas back in December, they viewed him as a player with plenty of potential. While the development process had been coming along relatively slowly for Oleksiak, there was a lot to like about his game. 

While his size - 6-foot-7, 255 pounds - stood out the most, what made Oleksiak unique was how well he could skate for being such a big guy. Factor in his puck-moving ability, comfort level playing both sides and of course, his willingness to drop the gloves when needed, and the upside was obvious.

Oleksiak began to realize that potential in Pittsburgh, having himself a career year - scoring four goals, 10 assists, 14 points and going plus-13 in 47 regular-season games with Pittsburgh. Combined with his time in Dallas, Oleksiak set highs in all offensive categories across the board, finishing with 17 points (5G-12A) in 68 games.

The 25-year-old became a key part of the Penguins' blue line, and earned a new deal as a result. The Penguins announced Thursday that Oleksiak had signed a three-year contract with an average annual value of $2,137,500.

"Coming to Pittsburgh, I really didn't have any idea what the plan was. I think it exceeded expectations," Oleksiak said. "It was a team that just came off of two Cups and I was a guy that was kind of in and out of the lineup. I wasn't really established or anything like that. But once I arrived, they welcomed me with open arms and I think it clicked right away. I think I couldn't have landed in a better spot."

Before arriving in Pittsburgh, Oleksiak had watched as the coaching staff in Pittsburgh had helped rejuvenate the careers of other defensemen, like his former Stars teammates Cameron Gaunce and Trevor Daley. Assistant coaches Sergei Gonchar and Jacques Martin went on to do the same for him, as they were instrumental in Oleksiak's development.

Gonchar helped him work on the details of his game, like stick positioning and gapping up while also encouraging him to use his shot as much as possible. Martin spent a lot of time with Oleksiak in the video room, going over the penalty kill.

"I can't say enough about those guys and how much they've helped me out, and how willing they are to put in the extra time after practice or away from the rink to really help me develop my game," Oleksiak said. "I think having those guys was huge for me last year. 

"To get another three years to work with them and fine-tune some things is a great opportunity that I couldn't pass up on, and I think that's one thing that really stands out in Pittsburgh, is just the support cast they have there."

With Oleksiak signed, the Penguins' blue line looks to be set heading into the 2018-19 season. He's looking forward to getting back to work with this group and continuing to grow his own game.

"With the coaches and the players and the D-men we have, just getting the chance to work with those guys in the future, I can only see my game getting better," he said. "I think I've learned so much this past half a year. The next few years, I just want to make the most of it."

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