Jamie Oleksiak missed by Penguins players; Garrett Wilson accepts fighter role when needed
A Monday trade left a 6-foot-7, 255-pound hole in the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex locker room. Not because the Pittsburgh Penguins don’t have the personnel to replace Jamie Oleksiak, but because the “Big Rig” will be missed.
“He’s a good friend; I loved having him here,” said defenseman Brian Dumoulin, who had a locker stall next to Oleksiak. “He’s a great guy, and I think he’s only getting better, a great player and a great teammates and just a fun guy to be around. Obviously it’s tough to see a teammate go, but I hope for the best for him.”
Oleksiak was shipped back to the Dallas Stars for a fourth-round draft pick 13 months after the Penguins had acquired him for a fourth-round pick. He had eight goals and 25 points in 83 regular-season games for the Penguins.
He was a solid part of their defense corps down the stretch and into the postseason last year, enough so he earned a three-year, $6.4 million contract over the summer. But Oleksiak had fallen to No. 8 on the Penguins’ defenseman depth chart, and his departure helps clear salary-cap space for general manager Jim Rutherford to make an addition.
“It’s never easy seeing teammates go, but it’s part of the business,” defenseman Jack Johnson said. “I’ve seen a lot of good teammates and friends come and go, and wish the best for him. A great teammate and good player.
“He definitely brought a physical presence to our team, but we are all hockey players so there is no reason why we can’t all step up in that department and bring some physicality to our game.”
The most physical of Olekiak’s roles – fighter – figures to be filled by fourth-line wing Garrett Wilson. The 6-3, 206-pound Wilson has 44 professional fighting majors, including five in the NHL.
“I will do anything I can to stick around here,” Wilson said, “and if I have to fight, I will.”
Wilson indicated he was looking to bait New Jersey players into a fight during Devils’ rout Monday in an attempt to spark the team.
“I didn’t have any takers,” he said. “That’s the way it is; the game is changing a little bit. But bringing a physical presence, usually, when you do get a big hit you have to answer the bell. And I will be ready for that when the challenge arises.
“I know what my role is here. I have always played a physical game and maybe the last five-to-six years in Wilkes-Barre or when I was in the (ECHL) I have always had to fight a little bit. It’s something I don’t mind in the heat of the moment. No one really likes fighting – but when I get into battle and it happens, I don’t mind it all, I have fun with it. I feel I can be successful when I do fight, so… if I have to get the old flippers off I don’t mind doing that at all.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.