OHL: Championship or bust; IceDogs up ante by adding Oleksiak

No team has ever suited up five members of Team Canada at once, so that should provide some idea of what's on the line for the Niagara IceDogs. Coach-GM Marty Williamson, whose team has not run away with the Ontario Hockey League's Eastern Conference as much as everyone giddily anticipated in the preseason, made an 8-for-1 deal Monday for hulking 6-foot-7 defenceman Jamie Oleksiak.

The IceDogs won't lose anything tangible if adding Oleksiak to a core that includes world junior players Mark Visentin, Dougie Hamilton, Freddie Hamilton and Ryan Strome doesn't pay off with winning the OHL championship. Still, this is a team that has It's played good, not great hockey with a 23-13-0-3 record, good for third in the conference, behind their pace from last season when their nucleus was younger. If they can't dominate when one-quarter of the lineup has worn the Maple Leaf, well ... anyway, here are the details on the trade:

The IceDogs sent Frank Schumacher, along with the rights to [goalie] Alex Sakellaropoulos and [University of Michigan commit] Cristoval Nieves, and Oshawa and Niagara's third-round draft picks in 2012, Barrie's second-round pick, Windsor's eighth-round pick in 2013 and Sarnia's second pick in 2015 for Oleksiak.

In addition Saginaw receives a sixth-round pick in 2014 if Oleksiak plays his overage season. (St. Catharines Standard)

Oleksiak, meantime, could win over a lot of doubters by contributing to a big playoff run. The Dallas Stars first-round choice came into the OHL after leaving Northeastern with outsized expectations thanks to the draft hype. It would be a stretch to say he has fulfilled those, especially after a world junior in which he didn't play a big role for a Canadian that fell short of the gold-medal goal. Playing on a messed-up Saginaw team which had to fire coach-GM Todd Watson last month isn't going to make many players look good, but Oleksiak was the only regular on the Spirit's back end in the black in plus/minus, albeit it at only +4. (And a +4 plus/minus rating is pretty thin gruel for someone Hockey Canada thought enough of to take to the world junior.)

On the Spirit end of it, new general manager Jim Paliafito picked up plenty of trade chips to play with as he tries to rebuild the organization. The number of priority selection choices in the deal make the return very good, but if Nieves and/or Sakellaropoulos can be convinced to report for next season, it becomes a great return.

In October, NHL Central Scouting named [Nieves] the top high school player eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft, with NHL scout Gary Eggleston calling him a "first round type of player."

Paliafito indicated that the outcome of the NHL draft will be a strong determinant in whether Nieves honors his commitment to Michigan or decides to join the Spirit.

Alex Sakellaropoulos, a 17-year-old goaltender from Tinley Park, Ill., is playing this season with the Chicago Steel of the USHL. In seven games, he has a 3.74 goals against average and a .894 save percentage.

Paliafito said that Sakellaropoulos has shown interest in the OHL, and he thinks there is a "strong possibility" he will join the league. (Saginaw News)

Ultimately, for Niagara, adding Oleksiak will make them the on-paper favourite to capture the Eastern Conference. The emphasis should be on the adjective. The NHL camp hangover and the world junior distraction is past, plus they have sniper Tom Kühnhackl back from his knee injury and 20-game suspension. It is about time for Niagara to remove all doubt they're a league heavyweight.

The OHL deadline is 12 noon ET on Tuesday. At this point, it seems likely any further moves will be minor.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: OHL Images).

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