The Dallas Stars have been blessed through drafting and trades with a deep roster of young defensemen. The decision was made this year to carry eight on the roster and rotate the bottom pairing, which helped this season when Johnny Oduya went down with injury.
There’s some question as to whether Dallas has concentrated on the right defensemen in their system. With so many young players going RFA this summer and the approaching expansion draft, Jim Nill will have some interesting decisions to make about the roster going forward.
One divisive name on the defensive roster is Jamie Oleksiak, and with good reason. Drafted 14th overall in 2011, he still hasn’t been able to crack the roster full time. The Stars kept him up in the NHL coming out of the 2014-15 camp, but he only saw 36 games that season and 19 the next. Still, there’s something compelling about a 6’7” defenseman that the Stars haven’t been able to let go of.
He’s got some points in his favor, but he’s got some detractors too.
The aforementioned height.
An article on Sportster from 2016 identified Jamie Oleksiak in the top five in height among current NHL players, tied with Ben Bishop and Brian Boyle, an inch behind Tyler Myers and two behind Zdeno Chara, who is still the tallest active NHL player.
That kind of height gives a player a definite advantage in reach, greater torque on a slap shot, a physical advantage in doling out and taking hits. Not to mention an advantage in that most important of hockey skills: fighting.
The average NHL player is only 6’1”, a full half a foot shorter than Oleksiak. When he uses that extra reach to his advantage, it’s hard to pass that up.
In a season where our forwards can’t seem to buy a goal, Jamie Oleksiak’s six points have definitely come in handy. His five goals put him second among Stars defensemen (tied with Esa Lindell but behind John Klingberg).
There’s been some improvement.
In the simple eye test, Oleksiak looks more comfortable on the ice and seems, at times, to display better decision making. There’s definitely been improvement even over the season.
His sample size of games is pretty small to really look at trends, but what I can tell you is that, relative to the other players on his team, Oleksiak had an okay year in 2014-15. In 2015-16, for whatever reason, he took a swan dive into terrible-town. But this year he’s shown improvement again. Not as good as 2014-15, but not nearly as bad as 2015-16.
For all that, yes, there’s been improvement since last season, his numbers aren’t as good now as the previous season, meaning his overall net gain is still negative.
The Stars possession numbers as a team have not been great this year, but even looking at relative numbers to account for that, Oleksiak has not seen a lot of improvement over the years.
One thing to take into account here that probably has some effect, he’s taking majority defensive zone starts, so his minutes aren’t as sheltered as they’ve been in previous seasons. In 2014-15, he had 45% offensive zone starts. This season, it’s 54% defensive zone.
The effect on his teammates.
With the notable exception of Stephen Johns, who himself is not having a great year, all of Oleksiak’s potential defensive partners play better without him.
This was also the case in 2015-16 and 2014-15. Night after night, Oleksiak seems to be a 6’7” albatross hanging around the neck of his teammate’s effectiveness.
There’s also the fact that, to a player, his teammates perform better without him than he does without them.
Which, again, is true over the last few seasons.
This is one of those “little of both” points. Remember here that blue is good, you want fewer unblocked shots against, and a lot of Oleksiak’s high danger zone is blue. But he’s not good at blocking from the point on his side, and he and his partner both aren’t amazing at clearing the net front.
I will grant you that this hasn’t been a feature of the Dallas Stars defense for quite some time. In fact, this is what the team looks like this year. But, this is what it looks like without Oleksiak this year:
And there’s obviously some improvement without him on the ice.
So what to do with Jamie Oleksiak this season? Re-sign him and hope he continues to improve to a full time third or (dare we hope) second pair? Try to trade him to a GM that values his size and slap shot? Hope another team presents an offer sheet this summer? There’s talk on twitter of protecting him in the expansion draft. Do you do that or hope the Vegas GM selects him from the Stars?
For me, his detractors outweigh his benefits. Not only would I not protect him in the expansion draft, I’d try to dangle his height in front of a GM that values size over possession.