This season, Northeastern University brought in one of college hockey’s most impressive group of freshmen. Among them is defenseman Jamie Oleksiak. And there is far more to the young rearguard than just his towering size.
Oleksiak came to Northeastern University after two years in the USHL with Chicago and Sioux Falls respectively. Prior to his stint in the USHL, Oleksiak played for Little Caesars, one of Michigan’s top Midget AAA programs, helping guide them to a Buc Bowl championship.
Oleksiak, who was born in Toronto and holds dual-citizenship, represented the United States in the 2009 U18 Ivan Hlinka Tournament in Slovakia.
Most recently, he was one of the last players cut from the US squad for the 2011 IIHF World Junior Championship. Despite not making the team, Oleksiak notes that the experience of having had the opportunity to play with such a talent-rich group was invaluable.
"It was unbelievable and I look at it as a very positive experience. I was at the camp with some of the top NHL prospects, so I was able to see how those guys carried and prepared themselves. The big thing for me was that I got to see the professionalism and the work ethic that they displayed. I also got to see what it takes to get to the next level. I feel that I’ll have the same chance (to make the team) next year. I took it as a learning experience and an opportunity to grow. It has definitely motivated me to go that extra mile and work a little harder to try and make the roster next year."
At Northeastern University
Oleksiak is part of the Huskies’ talented and sizeable defensive corps this season, logging upwards of 20-25 minutes per game. He has appeared in all 22 contests to date, posting six points (two goals, four assists). Oleksiak leads the Huskies with a plus-10. He posted his first collegiate goal (and point) back on Oct. 15 versus RPI. Oleksiak can be seen playing alongside senior Mike Hewkin as part of Northeastern’s second defensive pairing. He has also become a mainstay on the Huskies power play unit.
Prior to committing to Northeastern, Oleksiak garnered considerable recruiting interest. Playing for a Hockey East school was high on his list, having also spoken to Boston University and the University of Vermont.
Like many of the NCAA‘s top players, the Major Junior route was also an option for Oleksiak. His OHL rights are held by the Saginaw Spirit. But as Oleksiak explains, his decision to take the collegiate route and choosing to attend Northeastern is something that has no regrets about.
"Deciding if I should go the Major Junior or the college route was a big decision for me. My older brother actually played at Clarkson a bit, so that sort of opened the door for me to learn more about college hockey. My parents are also big on education, so they were encouraging me to play college hockey as well. I stick by my decision to play college hockey. It’s been very positive and I have no regrets. Major Junior is a great league, but I felt that college hockey was the best for me."
One of the primary reasons Oleksiak chose Northeastern was the coaching staff.
"The coaching staff have been unbelievable and just got me ready (for college hockey). They feel that I can compete and succeed at this level. I also can’t say enough about Coach Cronin. His experience at the pro level and the fact that he’s worked with some of the best guys like (Zdeno) Chara was a big thing for me. He and the other coaches have been phenomenal with helping me work down low with fast feet positioning; using my stick and using my (size) advantage, as well as using my body and just making people aware of me when I’m on the ice. And because of those things, I feel like I’ve developed by leaps and bounds."
Assistant coach Sebastien Laplante notes that the coaching staff has been particularly impressed with just how quickly Oleksiak adjusted to the collegiate game.
"We knew that Jamie was a special player and was going to be a great player for us, but we thought that the learning curve was going to take a little bit longer for him to get adapted to the speed (of college hockey) and the size of the opposing players. So we were pleasantly surprised that he adapted so quickly. Jamie’s progression has been pretty steady and we’ve worked with him on what we felt he needed to improve such as foot, body and stick positioning."
Oleksiak is a defenseman that possesses a really nice blend of size (6’7 240 pounds), physicality and outstanding puck skills. While much has been said of his size and physical side, what is most impressive about Oleksiak is his superb agility and athleticism. He moves remarkably well for such a big man, skating with long, fluid strides. He also maintains very good balance on his skates as well.
Although he possesses some good foot speed, the quickness and sharpness of turns and pivots maybe Oleksiak’s greatest weakness. And it is something that he readily admits and continues to work diligently to improve.
"Two of the big things that I’m working on are having fast feet down low in our zone as well as on my lateral movement. I’ve done a lot of skating sessions after practice. I’d stay on the ice with the coaches and just work on pivots or do some tight turns. I think my agility and fast feet are coming along. They’re things that I really pride myself on and am continuing to work on and do the best that I can."
Oleksiak uses his size, strength and reach quite advantageously, and can also deliver some punishing hits as well. He possesses a good, active stick and contains opposing players quite well. One notable improvement that Oleksiak has made as the season has gone along has been in his gap control. As he continues to fill out his enormous frame and hone his skills, they will both go a long way to making him an even more dominating presence.
One attribute that separates Oleksiak from many other young defensemen in the college game is his decision-making process. Whether he is delivering a check or jumping into plays, Oleksiak can rarely be found out of position when doing so. And as Laplante explains, it is also one of Oleksiak’s most underrated qualities as well.
"I think two of the most underrated aspects of Jamie’s game have to be his offensive potential and ability to know when to rush. He’s not one of those guys that will rush at every opportunity. Jamie picks his spots and usually makes the right decision when to join and not to join. He’s also really good at knowing when to pull back as well."
Some view Oleksiak as a stay-at-home type of defenseman, but the great hands and puck skills that he possesses could see him potentially blossom into a very solid two-way defenseman. He displays great poise and patience with the puck and distributes the puck quite efficiently. Oleksiak possesses a terrific shot and can get his shots through to the net. He also has very good on-ice vision and follows plays quite well. He isn’t likely to become a top scoring defenseman but does have good offensive instincts and the ability to finish plays.
Oleksiak lists Zdeno Chara and Chris Pronger among his favorite NHL players, and patterns his style of play after the player that he has drawn the most comparisons to.
"Zdeno Chara is the kind of guy that I think I’d like to pattern myself after. He’s a big, physical defenseman that can shut down the other team, but also can make an impact in both the neutral and offensive zones by getting hard shots to the net, making smart plays and getting the puck to the forwards. I think he plays a steady, impactful game and I’d like to be able to do the same."
So how does Oleksiak describe himself?
"I think I’m a defensive defenseman. I make a good first pass out of the zone and play a very physical game. I’m good in front of the net and don’t give opposing forwards any easy ice. I think I have the ability to move the puck pretty well on the offensive blue line and get shots through to the net. I also think that I have pretty good puck-moving skills too."
Jamie Oleksiak is the highest ranked collegian on Central Scouting’s Mid-Term rankings at 27 and ranked 32nd in ISS’s January rankings. He is projected to go late in the first round or early in the second round.