Jamie Oleksiak, a 6-foot-7, 244-pound defenseman for the Northeastern University men’s hockey team, intimidates opposing players with his imposing physique.
But the Toronto native is quickly proving to National Hockey League scouts that he’s much more than a hockey heavyweight who treats pucks like burning biscuits.
The freshman, who will be tested against Harvard tonight in the first round of the annual Beanpot Tournament at the TD Garden, is the country’s top collegiate prospect, according to the NHL Central Scouting Bureau. He could be picked in the first round of the NHL Draft in June.
“It’s really just talk right now,” says Oleksiak, who earned a spot on the preliminary roster for the 2011 U.S. National Junior team. “I love Northeastern and the coaching staff, so it’s early to say what’s going to happen.”
Oleksiak, who posted two goals and six assists through the club’s first 25 games, possesses a unique blend of strength and agility that invokes comparisons to NHL superstar Zdeno Chara, the tallest pro hockey player of all time.
“Chara’s a big guy, but he’s very mobile and has a great ability to get pucks through to the net,” says Oleksiak, who split time with the Sioux Falls Stampede and the Chicago Steel of the U.S. Hockey League before lacing up his skates for the Huskies. “I like to carry the puck out of my own zone and make smart plays by passing to the forwards.”
Oleksiak will use his size, deft hands and high hockey IQ to help Northeastern make a run in the Hockey East playoffs. After beginning the season with only two wins in the first 14 games, the Huskies have picked up points in nine of the last 11.
Oleksiak credits the turnaround to better team chemistry and improved team defense. The statistics bear this out: The Huskies surrendered 2.5 goals per game over the first 14 games of the season, but only 1.8 goals per game over the last 11.
“We have a young defense and a lot of freshman,” says Oleksiak. “Guys were nervous and were trying to prove themselves and do too much. As the season’s gone on, guys have gained confidence in our system and played a stronger defensive game.”