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Huge Oleksiak thrilled to be Stars’ first round pick

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

He evokes images of such star NHL defensemen as Boston captain Zdeno Chara, Buffalo’s Tyler Myers or even Montreal’s Hal Gill, and if Jamie Oleksiak can come even remotely close to any of them, the Dallas Stars will be very happy.

Oleksiak, the Northeastern University defenseman that the Stars selected with their first round pick (14th overall) at Friday night’s NHL Entry Draft, measures 6-foot-7 (two inches shorter than Chara and one less than Myers and Gill), while tipping the scales at 244 pounds and counting.

While he is still likely at least a couple of years away from Dallas, the 18-year-old Oleksiak is an imposing physical specimen.

“I think the first thing that’s catching is his size, 6-7, 240, and still room to grow in that frame, but he’s a kid at Northeastern University that our scouts have followed closely,” noted Dallas General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk. “He moves well for a big man. We’ve seen the impact over the years that big men can have on the game, and it goes back with us with Derian Hatcher and the success that he had. He has Chara-type size and he skates well and moves the puck. The offense is probably not overwhelming, but he plays an all-around game, and the important thing is he’s a guy that size who skates that well, he’s hard to play against.”

Oleksiak confirmed that he considers his main focus to be in the defensive zone, although he feels he can contribute all over the ice.

“I’d probably say I’m a defensive defenseman,” said Oleksiak, who compiled four goals and 13 points, along with 57 penalty minutes, in 38 games as a freshman at Northeastern this past season. “I think I have the ability to make plays in all three zones and I think I can really be a reliable player in any situation and I think I have a good shot from the point and I can use my size and my stick to kind of take away scoring opportunities from the other team and start the transition.”

As for the comparisons to Chara, Oleksiak did admit that he models his style of play after the Stanley Cup-winning Bruins captain and 2011 Norris Trophy nominee.

“Obviously, I try and take away as much as possible from a lot of players in the NHL, but if I had to narrow it down to one player, I’d probably say Zdeno Chara,” Oleksiak said. “He’s a guy I really look up to and someone I really enjoy his style of play and try and model my game after. I think he’s had great success and that’s something I want to do.”

Like Chara, Oleksiak displays impressive coordination and athleticism for such a big man, and that is a big reason why the Stars’ scouting staff was so enamored with him and believe he has much more room to progress as he continues to mature.

“He’s not awkward out there. He makes plays, he can stickhandle and he can move,” Nieuwendyk said. “He’ll have some growth in his game to develop, but our scouts have seen him a lot this year and they’re very comfortable that he’s going to be a big-time prospect.”

Part of that process, according to Oleksiak, is to continue building more muscle to fill out his large frame, which has been a primary focus of his off-season workout regimen.

“I’m working out with the strength coach back at Northeastern,” revealed Oleksiak, who grew up in Toronto but moved to Detroit at 14 and holds dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship. “Over the last year, I’ve been working on strength training and kind of growing into my body, a big part of me as well as kind of working on fast footwork and overall mobility. I think I’m working on that off-ice over the summer and I’m working hard to get ready for next season.

“My goal for next season is to hit 250, but I’ll have to talk to some strength coaches and see where I should end up. I don’t want to sacrifice mobility for strength, so we’ll figure that out.”

While Oleksiak was originally slated to return to Northeastern for his sophomore year in 2011-12, that is now in doubt after head coach Greg Cronin left the university to join the Toronto Maple Leafs as an assistant. Other options for Oleksiak include jumping to play junior hockey in the OHL or even turning pro and trying to secure a roster spot with the Texas Stars, Dallas’ AHL affiliate.

“Northeastern has been phenomenal for me and has really helped in my development, but as for what’s happening next year, it’s all up in the air,” admitted Oleksiak, who totaled two goals and 14 points in 53 USHL games in 2009-10, split between Sioux Falls and Chicago. “My goal is to play professional hockey one day and I really want to go where it’s going to continue my development and get to my goal and help me achieve the most. Right now, I haven’t committed to anything and there are some decisions coming up.”

“Those are things that we’ll discuss,” Nieuwendyk added. “I know the coach at Northeastern has left to join the Leafs’ staff, so we’ll have a chance to sit down with the kid and his agent. I suppose he could (play in the AHL) if we wanted him to turn pro, but I don’t think that’s the case. Obviously, he’s had one year in college hockey. He may have some options facing him, but those are things we’ll have to discuss with him. I think it was a good year for him at Northeastern, that program has come a long way, but I can’t speak for the kid because I know that the coach had a relationship with him.”

Regardless of where he skates next season, the Stars are hoping that Oleksiak continues his upward progression towards the NHL. His addition to the organization, when coupled with the addition of Alex Goligoski via trade from Pittsburgh last season and the development of other prospects such as Philip Larsen, indicate that the Stars’ overall corps of defensemen has received a nice injection of talent over the last year or so.

“You got Larsen knocking on the door, too, so yeah, I think 12 months ago, we were talking a lot about our defense,” acknowledged Nieuwendyk, “and I think the cupboard is starting to get stocked and it certainly got stocked in a big way with this kid.”

“I think it’s a good fit for me,” Oleksiak said of being chosen by Dallas. “I’m really looking forward to it and it’s a real honor to be selected by the Stars and it’s a great experience.”

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