CRANBERRY TWP. — Jamie Oleksiak initially shrugged off the question of what it has been like to go through a tumultuous week on both a professional and personal level.
“Just part of the job,” the Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman said after practice Friday at the UMPC Lemieux Sports Complex. “Just part of playing in the NHL.”
However, pressed a little further after a scrum of reporters had left locker, Oleksiak admitted it has indeed been the most unique week of his six seasons in the NHL.
The Penguins acquired Oleksiak from the Dallas Stars on Tuesday in a trade for a fourth-round draft pick in 2019. The 25-year-old practiced with his new team Wednesday at PPG Paints Arena then helped the Penguins beat the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 in a shootout Thursday night.
“I’m still trying to process the whole thing,” Oleksiak said. “I got a call saying I’d been traded to Pittsburgh and I had one hour to pack my gear up and get to the airport to catch a flight. It happened so suddenly. You always know in the back of your mind that a trade can happen, but it’s the first time it’s happened to me. It feels like everything has been just going non-stop the last few days and I haven’t had time to really stop and think about what’s happened.”
The most challenging part of an in-season trade for a player is the upheaval it creates off the ice. Families are uprooted, and need housing in a new city among other things.
It is a little easier in Oleksiak’s case because he was able to find someone to pack up his belongings in Dallas and drive his car to Pittsburgh. Oleksiak is staying in a hotel until he can find a place to rent.
“Really, the transition has been as smooth as anyone could hope to expect in this situation,” Oleksiak said. “The big thing for me was how I would fit in with the rest of the team. It has been a very welcoming group of guys, and that’s helped a lot. In that regard, even though I’ve only been here a couple of days or so, it feels like I’ve been here a couple of weeks.”
Oleksiak fit well on the ice in his Penguins’ debut.
The 6-foot-7, 255-pounder made his presence felt along the blueline in a rough-and-tumble game with the Blue Jackets as he had five hits and one blocked shot while logging 17:26 ice time over 27 shifts. He had that much time on ice only once in his last eight games with the Stars as he fell out of favor with coach Ken Hitchcock.
“Most systems are pretty similar, but there are little details that you have to adjust to,” Oleksiak said. “You watch the video to see what they do and then it’s your job to learn it as quickly as possible. There’s going to be a transition here for me, but I feel pretty good about how it went in my first game. It was a good start.”
Jamie Oleksiak Dallas Years
The Stars selected Oleksiak in the first round of the 2011 entry draft, and he made his NHL debut during the 2012-13 season. However, he was unable to blossom in Dallas entirely, and his career high for games played was 41 last season.
He had one goal and three points in 22 games this season along with a 49.1 Corsi percentage.
During his career with the Stars, he logged just seven goals in 140 games. Some in the organization also felt Oleksiak did not use his size to his advantage as evidenced by his 100 career penalty minutes and eight fighting majors — small numbers for a big player.
However, the Penguins have long coveted Oleksiak. They believe he can become a productive player and provide a spark to a team with a lackluster 18-15-3 record on the heels of back-to-back Stanley Cup-winning seasons.
“He hits really hard. I don’t think he realizes how hard he hits,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, whose team hosts the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday night in their last game before the NHL’s Christmas break.
“For a big man, he’ a pretty mobile guy who can skate and move the puck. He’s a guy our hockey (operations) department spoke about in the summertime. A lot of guys in our hockey ops believe he fits into the type of game we’re trying to play here. He’s a really good kid, he fits in really well, and I thought he had a strong first game.”