Jamie Oleksiak has been compared to Zdeno Chara because of his size, skill and toughness. (Photo by Jim Pierce)
Northeastern Huskies freshman Jamie Oleksiak is 6-foot-7, plays the blueline and skates well. Is he the next coming of Tyler Myers? Experts have another comparable: “More like Zdeno Chara,” said one scout. “He plays with that edge.”
At 240 pounds, the Toronto native certainly has the bulk of ‘Big Z’ and his choice of a Hockey East school even had an eye on the tallest man in the NHL – Huskies coach Greg Cronin once worked with Chara when both were employed by the Islanders.
“He knows what to do to get players to the next level,” Oleksiak said of the coach.
While size is definitely a plus with the big blueliner, it’s not the only thing the youngster brings to the table.
“The kid’s got some pretty soft hands,” said Northeastern assistant coach Sebastien Laplante. “He’s able to stickhandle out of the pile. NHL teams are already trying to put him in a box as a shutdown player, but I think he’s got two-way potential.”
Oleksiak tallied four goals and 13 points in his first 37 games at Northeastern, so the offensive spark is present, but there’s also no getting around what he can do physically.
Playing for the United States League’s Sioux Falls Stampede last season, Oleksiak dropped the gloves six times, but in the NCAA, each fist fight would garner a one-game suspension and subsequent review. So focused aggression is more important than ever for the frosh.
“I think that rule has its pros and cons,” Oleksiak said. “There’s a lot of smaller guys running around in college and in a league like the USHL, they wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. It can be frustrating, but you learn to make the hit or shove them down in front of the net; make it frustrating for them.”
Like many big men, footwork is something Oleksiak is working to improve upon.
“Skating is definitely a big thing,” he said. “I want to grow into my body. I’m pretty good north-south; it’s the lateral movement. Fast feet is a big thing.”
Though he was raised in Toronto, Oleksiak’s father is from Buffalo, so the defenseman has dual citizenship and was a late cut from Team USA’s World Junior Championship squad in December. No other 2011 prospects made the team, either (though backup goalie Andy Iles was undrafted in 2010).
Since he’s only in his first year of college, Oleksiak’s impact at Northeastern is impressive. That he’s a late birthday and a teenager makes the feat even more so.
“He’s very reliable for a freshman who just turned 18,” Laplante said. “We knew there was going to be a learning curve, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised with how quickly he’s picked things up.”
In fact, Laplante recalls watching Oleksiak in Northeastern’s second game of the season against city rival Boston College and thinking his young charge was the best defenseman on the ice - a list that would include Eagles Brian Dumoulin and Philip Samuelsson, both NHL second round draft picks.
“That’s when we knew we had a special player,” said Laplante, himself a former Huskie.
While Northeastern has generally been fourth among the four Boston schools behind Harvard, Boston College and Boston University - the Huskies have won just four of the 58 Beanpot tournaments the schools have played for - Oleksiak has already had a big impact, leading the Huskies to the Beanpot final.
And size is only part of the equation.
This article originally appeared in the March 7, 2011 edition of THN magazine.
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