PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins quietly dealt hulking defenseman Jamie Oleksiak back to the Dallas Stars, Monday afternoon. Oleksiak was part of a crowded Penguins blue line which would have had nine healthy members upon the return of defenseman Justin Schultz, who is expected back sometime this month. Oleksiak was the Dallas first-round draft choice in 2011.
The Penguins received a fourth-round pick from Dallas, which is the same pick the Penguins gave up last season when they acquired Oleksiak from Dallas. The pick the Penguins will receive originally belonged to the Minnesota Wild.
Oleksiak, 26, signed a three-year deal this offseason worth $2.1 million per season. The 6-foot-7, 255-pound defenseman lost his spot in the lineup after he was concussed in a fight with Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson, on Dec. 19 and missed several weeks.
This season, Oleksiak had 11 points (4g, 7a) in 36 games. He also had 37 penalty minutes and was a plus-5.
The Penguins are down to seven defensemen and have an open roster spot, despite neither Schultz nor Zach Aston-Reese being ready to return. Read the tea leaves as you will. This could be a matter of salary cap timing–clearing space–but with four games in six nights, depth could have been useful. This is either to set up a corresponding move or it’s a bad move by the Penguins.
Oleksiak for only a fourth-round pick also seems to be an undersell by Penguins GM Jim Rutherford. PHN analysis based on comparable deals over the past two years showed a third-round choice as the going rate for a defenseman who could play second pairing minutes.
Oleksiak was a top-four defenseman last season, playing beside Schultz. By most accounts, he resurrected his career which was fledgling in Dallas.
Oleksiak did not adapt as well to the right side in the Penguins system. Despite few, if any schematic differences to playing on his off-side, the transition to the right did not bolster his game. Finnish rookie defenseman Juuso Riikola has played well as the third pairing right side defender, which ultimately cost Oleksiak his spot.
The “big rig” brought a snarl to the Penguins blue line and his willingness to fight Tom Wilson earned a standing ovation from his teammates in the locker room after the game. Oleksiak will be a slight loss for the Penguins if nothing else transpires.