Matching Minors: What Is Jamie Oleksiak's Future in Dallas?
Derek and Robert talk about Jamie Oleksiak's future with the Stars, carrying eight defensemen, and more.
Welcome to a brand new feature in which two of our writers have a little back-and-forth about a pressing issue with the team. No matter how emotional the arguments get, just remember: hockey is a very big deal, and if you disagree with someone about it, you need to prise an agreement out of them at all costs. That is what this is all about.
1. Could this be the year Jamie Oleksiak finds a consistent spot in the Stars' top six?
Robert: No. After being rushed up to the NHL during a moment of 2012-2013 desperation, Oleksiak has seen only fits and spurts of decent NHL play over the past three years. He looked decent from the end of December through January, but his eventual relegation to the AHL in favor of Jyrki Jokipakka spoke volumes about where he is on the Stars' depth chart. The Stars know that ice time is how you develop young defensemen like Oleksiak, and they chose to give the bulk of the NHL-grade minutes to someone else.
With the addition of Oduya, there are only two spots left (barring injury), and I can't see Oleksiak beating out two of Nemeth, Benn and Jokipakka on any sort of regular basis. Even the best training camp in the world isn't likely to change that.
Derek: Consistent spot? I would probably have to say no. Both Patrik Nemeth and Jyrki Jokipakka were ahead of Oleksiak on the depth chart last year, and that's not counting the free agent addition of Oduya as well.
That being said, though, he did make the team out of camp last year, even though Jokipakka seemed to have a better preseason. Nill seems to highly value players that have both size and mobility, so if he and Lindy Ruff want a certain look to their roster then I suppose it's a possibility that Oleksiak could fit those plans.
2. The Stars have a very solid group of third-pairing defensemen. Since Oleksiak can't be assigned to the AHL without going through waivers, would Dallas really carry eight defensemen for an extended period of time?
Derek: Absolutely. Jim Nill has a pretty darn good poker face, but I think he's being bluntly honest about his desire to carry eight defensemen on his roster this season.
The common conception of a roster is having seven defensemen, but teams usually have eight that are ready to roll in the NHL, with that eighth guy spending his time down in the AHL. Think Brad Lukowich or Maxime Fortunus. The Stars don't have that kind of vet in the AHL right now, so they're going to keep all eight NHL-ready blueliners up in the NHL full time.
Some people might wonder about why Stephen Johns or Esa Lindell can't be that eighth defenseman ready to be called up, but would it make sense to have those guys sit in the press box in Dallas when they could be playing huge minutes in the AHL every night? Likely not.
With how inconsistent the Stars' defending was last season, having that much competition for spots next year can only be a good thing.
Robert: Jim Nill has mentioned this as a possibility, and it's not absurd at first blush. The Stars can keep Brett Ritchie and Curtis McKenzie in the AHL without passing either them through waivers, so if, say, McKenzie starts the year in Cedar Park, that would give the Stars one extra forward.
This might not be a problem at the beginning of the year, but the Stars have two four-game road trips in the first month of the season, and you'd think they'd like the luxury of having more than one extra player around when they're up in Pennsylvania or Detroit and a player strains a groin at a morning skate. With only one forward to healthy scratch, the Stars would have to make much quicker decisions on IR assignments and recalls from Cedar Park. That doesn't seem like something the Stars would be thrilled to do merely for the ability to have two extra bottom-pairing defensemen around.
3. If the Stars end up trading away a defenseman, would it be Oleksiak?
Robert: Yes. As much as you don't want to give up on first-round potential, look at things from the Stars' perspective: Patrik Nemeth (23 years old) came in towards the end of 2013-14 and was solid, then won a spot out of training camp last year. Jokipakka (24 in August) made his debut last season and showed that he deserved to stay. Oleksiak (23 in December) has been given three different chances to show that he can play at the NHL level, and he has yet to make a convincing argument that he is a better option than the other two kids.
If you're the Stars, are you willing to bet a known quantity like Nemeth or Jokipakka in hopes that Oleksiak will quickly reach their levels and eventually pass by their ceilings? The Stars are in win-now mode, and you can't really make a convincing case that Oleksiak will help the Stars win more than the other kids based on what we've seen so far.
And for what it's worth, Jordie Benn has consistently been better than any of the three young defensemen. He only has one year left on his contract, and he obviously has some additional value to the Stars that he wouldn't have to other teams. He wouldn't seem to be a likely trade candidate unless the kids in Dallas (or Cedar Park) absolutely force the Stars to play them instead, and you certainly can't say that Oleksiak has done that so far.
Derek: I'm going to have to respectfully disagree here, Robert, and say no.
When you look at Nill's drafting record, especially this past draft, he has a clear preference towards players that have a combination of both speed and size. That seems like how he wants to build his team. Taking that into consideration, I find it hard to believe that he'd move such a unique player as Oleksiak.
When crunching all the underlying numbers from last season, the differences between Oleksiak and Jokipakka aren't that dramatic. Both players should be able to more or less equally hold their own in sheltered bottom pairing minutes.
People are down on Oleksiak because they saw his mistakes live when he was making them in the NHL at 20 and 21, but that's not really fair because Jokipakka, Nemeth, and even John Klingberg would have made plenty of mistakes in the NHL if they were rushed to Dallas at that young of an age. Their normal young mistakes were hidden over in Europe whereas Oleksiak's were magnified.
Sure, the Stars are in win-now mode, but Nill also seems to keep a strong focus on the future. With Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers and Jordie Benn all free agents at the end of the year, I don't know if it would make sense, long-term, to move Oleksiak as opposed to trading one of those three, or letting one walk after a playoff push.