Mon Jul 25 12:03pm EDT
Cue the sky's-the-limit expectations: Dallas Stars first-round choice Jamie Oleksiak is signing on with the Saginaw Spirit, where he'll surely be one of the Ontario Hockey League's most scrutinized newcomers come September.
Just hazarding a guess, the main question with the big blueliner is whether he will become one of the most intimidating and effective shutdown defencemen in the OHL, and how fast that will happen. Oleksiak, who's also made off-season headlines by choosing to try out for Canada's world junior squad instead of Team USA, got on the NHL's radar facing older competition in Hockey East at Northeastern under then-Huskies coach Greg Cronin (now on staff with the Toronto Maple Leafs).
The transition from the NCAA and/or playing in the U.S. developmental circuit to the longer major junior schedule isn't always seamless. Some would remember that around this time last year, people were agog about the possibilities involved with Montreal Canadiens first-round choice Jarred Tinordi opting for the London Knights after long being committed to the University of Notre Dame. Tinordi, as you know, had his trials and tribulations with the Knights this past season. The difference, what might separate Oleksiak if all goes well for him, is that he is a little older and wiser than a player coming out of the U.S. national team development program, since he's played a season in the NCAA and is going into his age-19 year.
Meantime, Oleksiak is going to a team with some openings on the blue line. The Spirit loaded up on the blue line last season by adding tough-minded Dalton Prout and 6-foot-3, 224-pound Ben Chiarot, a fourth-round NHL pick, in mid-season trades. It didn't result in the ultimate payoff since they exited in six games against Windsor in the second round of the playoffs. Now Prout is turning pro and Chiarot, guessing solely based on his draft status, might be more than likely to jump to the pros in the Winnipeg Jets organization. From the sounds of it, Spirit coach-GM Todd Watson might give Oleksiak all the ice time he can handle.
The Spirit drafted Oleksiak in the seventh round of the 2008 OHL Draft, and kept tabs on him as he opted for the NCAA route over the OHL.
Watson said his NHL draft position helped convince him that the Spirit would be the right spot for him in the 2011-12season.
But Watson also cautioned that there will be an adjustment from the college game to the OHL.
"Do I expect an adjustment? Yeah," Watson said. "Do I think it's going to be a huge one? You never know, but I think it'll be fluid. I think there will be some bumps, a lot of ups. I think he'll make a contribution in a lot of ways right away." (Saginaw News)
There is the wider question of how many more prospects might switch tracks from the NCAA to the OHL before training camps open in late August. Meanwhile, one the high-upside guys in the NHL draft class will be playing in the same West Division that includes dazzling talents such as Sarnia's Alex Galchenyuk and Nail Yakupov and the Windsor Spitfires' Alexander Khokhlachev, a Boston Bruins second-rounder. Oleksiak's presence spices up an already intriguing division.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports . Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.