Big Decisions Ahead For Big Oleksiak

The past few months have been a whirlwind of activity for 17 year-old defenceman Jamie Oleksiak.

(Jim Mone / AP Photo)

Three months ago, the  6-foot-7, 240-pound Oleksiak finished an eye-opening freshman season when he and his Northeastern University Huskies were eliminated from the Hockey East Tournament playoffs at the hands of Boston College. A month later he was impressing scouts with his strength and conditioning at the NHL Draft Combine, which, combined with his excellent regular season, led him to be drafted 14th overall by the Dallas Stars on June 24. And most recently, he finished up an impressive showing at the Stars’ development camp this past Friday in McKinney, Texas.

But it will be the outcome of two tough choices that the young Oleksiak has to make in the near future, however, that could have the biggest impact on determining how his future hockey career develops.

First, he must decide as to where he will play his 2011/2012 season of hockey. The Huskies would certainly love to retain his services,  but the departure of last season’s head coach Greg Cronin, who took a job with the Toronto Maple Leafs, has left Oleksiak unsure about the team’s future direction.

Making matters more interesting, Oleksiak’s CHL rights are owned by the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL, who would definitely benefit from a defender of his size and quality, and could benefit him by providing a more NHL-like regular season schedule and more free time to focus on hockey instead of university schooling. Oleksiak has stated that he remains loyal to Northeastern, but you can be sure that the Spirit have been active as of late trying to get him to make the jump to their team.

“Obviously, we don’t want to make a decision until Northeastern finds a head coach. I don’t think that would be fair,” said Oleksiak. “The program has been phenomenal and I’m just waiting to see what coach they bring in. My ultimate goal is to play professional hockey one day, so it’s a matter of where I’ll do most of my developing or developing more to get ready for that next level.”

If Oleksiak switches to the OHL, he’ll follow suit with 2010 Dallas first rounder Jack Campbell, who spurned his previous commitment to the University of Michigan Wolverines to play with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires. Campbell was caught unprepared for the OHL’s pace and found himself struggling early, before rebounding after a sparkling World Junior Championship (winning best goalie in the tournament) to lead the Spitfires into the playoffs, where they fell in the Conference Final.

Secondly, Oleksiak, who holds dual Canadian and American citizenship, is also facing the lofty decision of which country to try and represent in future international tournaments. He suited up for the Americans at the 2009 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and was a late cut for their 2011 World Junior Championship roster, and team USA would certainly like for him to return next year and try again, but he’ll also be pulled in the direction of the powerhouse Team Canada, who have made the WJC finals for 10 consecutive years.

This choice may be the biggest one for Oleksiak, as there’s no going back once it’s made: whoever he chooses will be the only team that he can represent at the international stage in future competitions (provided he actually makes either team, of course, which seems more likely than not of happening). Oleksiak would probably have better luck making the American roster, but could have a better chance at winning a medal if he were to choose (and make) the Canadians.

“I owe both countries a lot. I grew up in Canada and that’s where I started to get into hockey. That’s where my family has been living,” he said. “At the same time, I moved the to the U.S., played junior there and they gave me the first opportunity to play for the USA. It’s a tough decision. You can make arguments for both sides. You can’t please everyone, I guess. I am just try to do what best fits for me and what I feel is right.”

Oleksiak can look towards LA Kings prospect Brandon Kozun as an example of how tough it can be to choose between Canada and the US. Kozun surprised many by using his dual citizenship to switch over to Team Canada for the 2010 WJC’s, only to be defeated in the Gold Medal game by Team USA (led by Campbell in net, ironically enough).

Regardless of who he chooses on both accounts, it’s a safe bet to say that Oleksiak will be an impact player for whatever teams’ jersey he dons, including Dallas’.


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