The youth movement is alive and well in Dallas.
Over the course of the four games that the Stars have played so far in this shortened 48-game season, much talk has been made about the play of the organization's prospects that have cracked the lineup, and for good reason. Cody Eakin, Reilly Smith, Brenden Dillon and Jordie Benn have all not only been performing at an NHL skill level, but all have shown flashes that they have the potential to become impact players for the team.
But as of right now it looks like those aforementioned five might not be the only youngsters to get the chance to strut their stuff for the Stars. At least, not if Jamie Oleksiak has anything to say about it.
It's no secret by now that Dallas' 2011 1st round draft choice, all 6'7" and 250-plus pounds of him, is an essential building block of the Stars' future. DBD's very own Brandon Worley, in his midseason prospect rankings back in December, placed Oleksiak at the top of the list for the organization.
However, it is quickly becoming more and more apparent that this key component of Dallas' future could also very soon become a key component of Dallas' present.
Since the 2012-2013 AHL season began Oleksiak has been having a monster of a rookie year at the professional level. He was immediately entrusted with big minutes for the Texas Stars, and didn't hesitate to show that he deserves them thanks to his daunting size, sound defensive awareness and unassumingly impressive mobility.
Yet the more time passes, the more rapidly Oleksiak continues to grow, not only becoming one of Texas' top defencemen between the start of the season and now, but one of their best players overall.
Throughout 41 games Oleksiak leads the entire team in assists with 20, is tops among all defencemen in points with 23, and is second on the team in plus-minus with a sparkling +12. Texas has gone 9-1 over their last ten games, vaulting them into a tie for 1st place in the AHL, and it's undeniable that Oleksiak's continued improvement has played a large role in that surge.
And as if his development wasn't already going well enough as it is, it seems to have taken an even bigger leap forward in the past week.
Oleksiak was officially recalled by Dallas on January 15, taking part in the team's training camp for a few days before being assigned back down to Texas on January 18. Maybe it's the beneficial experience from practicing with a squad full of NHLers, or maybe it's a statement to GM Joe Nieuwendyk that it was a mistake to send him down, but regardless of whatever caused the spark Oleksiak's play for Texas in the three games since leaving Dallas' camp has been downright gargantuan. He recording six assists, a +6 rating and seven shots in those three games, and was a dominant force in each.
In Brandon's prospect rankings article he said that Jamie's "offense isn't quite there yet, but it's coming." Well, it certainly looks like it just arrived. If Oleksiak can consistently add in offensive production to an already impressive repetoire of attributes then there's no telling just how high his ceiling can extend.
Prospect development is a tricky thing, and by no means is it an exact science. Speed bumps and slumps are a common occurrence for many youngsters, so it would be unfair to have unflinching expectations that Oleksiak will sustain this kind of developmental pace. Still...Oleksiak has gotten significantly better with each passing year from his junior days until now, and with Benn and Dillon currently in Dallas the door is wide open for him to take charge right now in the AHL and see just how far he can go.
It's clear that the Stars, both before the lockout began and before the regular season started, had no desire to rush Oleksiak into duty in Dallas, and rightfully so: rushing young players can have long-term negative effects when someone is thrown into tough situations before they are ready. But it's becoming more and more thought-provoking as to whether or not he hasn't already reached that point of readiness, especially considering he is undoubtedly the team's defensive callup of choice should Dallas need emergency assistance.
While it still remains to be seen whether Oleksiak will get his chance in Dallas at some point this season or not until next, it's definitely well past the point of if and simply a matter of when. It's become certain that Oleksiak is a prospect worth getting very excited about, and that it's only a short matter of time until Stars fans get a first-hand look at seeing just what he can do.