Jamie Oleksiak did not have a good season. Had to be said. So how bad, exactly, was his 2015-2016 campaign? The Big Rig appeared in a scant 19 games, played an average of 12:42 in those games, and saw his team swing a deadline deal for Kris Russell. No offense to Mr. Russell, but if you’re a 23-year old former first round pick, he’s not the sort of signing that makes you think you’ve got a future with the organization.
It’s not just about the number of games either. Had Oleksiak ended the season on a major run, or stepped up in the wake of a critical injury, it might shade his relatively light workload. Instead, he played twice in October, four times in November, four times in December, once in January, twice in February, and six times in March. He played 9:05 on March 12, 18:16 on March 15, 10:09 on March 17, and did not suit up again for the Stars.
What makes the situation even worse is Oleksiak’s contract status, specifically, the fact he could not be sent to the AHL Texas Stars without passing through waivers. At 22 when the season started, and with his physical tools, there was a zero percent chance some other team wouldn’t take a flier on the big D-Man. End result? When I say Oleksiak played in 19 games last season I mean that literally. There were no extended stints in the AHL, nor any significant injuries. Oleksiak simply sat. A ton.
As tough as it is to draw statistical conclusions from a 19 game sample, it is fair to say his play did not demand inclusion in the roster. Oleksiak tallied a pair of assists, threw 54 hits, and blocked 28 shots. Under the hood he was relatively sheltered (54.9% ZSO), but his lines had difficulty winning the possession battle decisively (49 CF% / 53.2% FF). His contributions on special teams (0:36 ASHTOI / 0:00 APPTOI) were negligible.
What Oleksiak did do well, and continues to do well, is be a smooth-skating 6’7″, 250-pound man mountain. Yes, it’s a somewhat tired refrain at this point, but the fact is that Oleksiak is in possession of transformative, generational physical gifts. His fans (Pro-leksiaks?) can make a very valid case Jamie’s development deserves extreme patience and understanding.
Which is why the whole games-played thing has become such a boondoggle. For all of the (justified) credit Stars’ management gets for their handling of the roster, it’s impossible to look at Oleksiak’s journey this past year as anything other than a waste. Of time, of a roster spot, or an asset, you name it.
He’s either a prospect or he isn’t. In the case of the former, that means games and experience. In the case of the latter, it means a move for future assets the Stars might actually use. It brings to mind Jonathan Drouin’s situation in Tampa Bay, minus the potentially career-altering injury ahead of him in the lineup.
It’s not like the decision gets any easier. Oleksiak will be a restricted free agent this offseason. Spots are opening on the Stars’ blueline, but while the Big Rig has been in park, players like Julius Honka and Esa Lindell have built stronger cases for roster inclusion. Do the Stars know enough about who Oleksiak is to make a decision? Do his gifts demand further opportunity? Will some other team come calling with a compelling contract? As will all things Oleksiak, who knows?
How would you grade Jamie Oleksiak’s 2015-16 season?