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'Big Rig' or Galloping Moose? Oleksiak doing it all for Stars

Dallas' largest defenseman has shown the ability to track down speedy forwards and create offensively

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

There's a great video on YouTube of a moose galloping next to a highway in British Columbia.

It's a reminder that while massive (they can be as tall as 7 feet at the shoulder and weigh as much as 1,500 pounds), these are graceful creatures capable of great speed.

Jamie Oleksiak is sort of that way.

The Stars' largest player at 6-foot-7, 255 pounds, Oleksiak has shown this season that he has the ability to not only join the rush or track down a speedy forward, but that he also can create offensively.

"Jamie Oleksiak, he's probably one of our most underrated players right now," Stars interim coach Rick Bowness said. "He has played very, very well all year for us. He's been very consistent. He can skate, he's doing everything we need him to do. He's earned the minutes, he's earned that top-four ranking."

As Bowness and assistant John Stevens try to configure the lineup after a coaching shakeup in December, they keep going back to a pairing that has Oleksiak with highly-skilled defenseman Miro Heiskanen. It seems to work.

"He's such a great player that he makes things easy for me," Oleksiak said, crediting Heiskanen with the ability to make good decisions and move the puck well. "I think it's just a matter of trying to read what he wants and then be there to help him out."

Bowness said that while Heiskanen definitely helps any partner, Oleksiak is just as helpful. In a lot of ways, the pairing works because Oleksiak helps bring out the best in Heiskanen. That's something the 27-year-old said he knows he has to contribute.

"I don't think you just chip it off the glass and go try to hit someone or get in a fight the way you used to," said Oleksiak. "It's important in our game for a defenseman to move the puck, to be a part of the transition game."

Video: DAL@NSH: Oleksiak nets goal after great deke

Oleksiak scored his first goal in a year on Dec. 14 against Nashville, but he said that's not even the key to good offense.

"It's more possession and pressure," he said. "You want to be able to push the play and keep them in their zone. That's what we do when we're playing well."

Oleksiak's confidence is one of his best attributes now. He was the Stars' first-round draft pick in 2011 (14th overall) and worked his way up through the team in Lindy Ruff's high-flying system. That created a drive to join the play and take a few risks from the back end. But with that style also came the possibility of mistakes, and like several young players in that era, Oleksiak found he could be a healthy scratch at a moment's notice.

That affected his progress at times, and in 2017 the Stars decided to trade Oleksiak. With Julius Honka trying to earn a spot in the lineup and players like Greg Pateryn and Stephen Johns earning bigger minutes, there just was no room for Oleksiak. Dallas sent him to Pittsburgh for a fourth-round pick, and the move might have been the best thing to happen.

Oleksiak jumped in with a talented group and not only played, but observed.

"It was just a great lesson," he said. "They've had so much success there and they have some great players, and so you just watch and learn."

Oleksiak did that, playing in 12 playoff games, and gaining not only confidence but calm. The Penguin had their own overabundance of defensemen last season, and the Stars were injury-riddled, so Dallas traded to get Oleksiak back. He was acquired for a fourth-round draft pick -- which is exactly what the Stars got for him in 2017 -- but the player that returned had more value.

For one, he played in the playoffs. For two, he played a much bigger role.

"Getting a chance to be a regular in Pittsburgh and playing in the playoffs and getting all the experience, you learn you can handle it," Oleksiak said. "You're confident that you can play and kind of learn different tendencies of what you need to do to play big minutes. Instead of playing not to make mistakes, I was playing to make sure we won the game, and I was an effective player out there. It was a good experience."


When the Stars were rolling in the playoffs last season, Oleksiak was a big part of the push. When he got hurt in the first-round series against Nashville, coaches said they felt the loss of Oleksiak's presence against a big, heavy team from St. Louis in the second round.

"If you go back to last year, we missed him in that playoff series with St. Louis. We did," Bowness said. "He was an important part of our team as the season went on. When he went down in the playoff series, that hurt us. He's picked up where he left off from last year, so good for him."

In recent games, Oleksiak is playing 18 minutes a lot more than he is 12. He has become a regular defenseman who is relied upon to not only make good decisions, but to use both his size and skill.

"They keep saying the game is getting smaller and faster, but I think there's always going to be a place for size and hitting," Oleksiak said. "Still, you have to be able to make plays and handle speed."

Oleksiak's nickname has always been "The Big Rig," and he likes it. When it was suggested that "Galloping Moose" might be more appropriate now, he wasn't really open to the change. However, shown the YouTube video, he was impressed.

"That is fast," he said with a nod.

So Galloping Moose it is?

"Hmmmmm?" Oleksiak said with a bit of failed smile.

We'll have to get back to you on this one.

Don't miss your chance to see the Stars take on the Colorado Avalanche at American Airlines Center on Saturday at 6 p.m. Get your tickets now!

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.

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