Penguins Predictions: How often will Jamie Oleksiak drop the gloves? |

Penguins Predictions: How often will Jamie Oleksiak drop the gloves?

Jonathan Bombulie

Editor’s note: Beat writer Jonathan Bombulie will make a series of Penguins predictions leading up to the start of training camp Sept. 14.


How many fighting majors will Jamie Oleksiak record this season?


A. Less than the seven he had last year

When the average number of fights per game in the NHL jumped from 0.28 in 2015-16 to 0.30 in 2016-17, it looked like the long downward trend in frequency of fisticuffs had finally reached rock bottom. Nope. Not so fast. The league hit a new low of 0.22 per game last season. Only three players – Florida’s Micheal Haley (22), Cody McLeod (13) of Nashville and the New York Rangers and Washington’s Tom Wilson (13) – had fight totals in double digits, and Oleksiak is nowhere near as pugnacious as that trio. It’s very possible Oleksiak will fight less because everyone is fighting less. Also, a player in Oleksiak’s shoes will probably fight more when he’s trying to impress a new team than when he’s grown more comfortable with his role.

B. Right around the seven he had last year

As long as the league doesn’t ban fighting entirely, hockey is a belligerent game, as coach Mike Sullivan likes to say. As long as teams continue to employ players like Wilson, incidents will occur every so often that make fights practically inevitable. If those events happen about once a month – not an unreasonable estimate – Oleksiak will come pretty close to reprising the seven fights he had last season.

C. More than the seven he had last year

First and foremost, Wilson is without a doubt owed a receipt for his hit on Zach Aston-Reese in last year’s playoffs. That’s one fighting major on the tote board before a single hit is thrown in anger this season. Beyond that, Oleksiak has shown, in his time with the Penguins, a well-developed sense for knowing when circumstances call for a fight. When a game with the Boston Bruins was starting to get out of control, Oleksiak engaged in a fight with 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara even if he didn’t really want to. He challenged Wilson to a fight as soon as he could after the Aston-Reese hit. Oleksiak also seems to have a good sense of what the Flyers rivalry means. Two of his fights last season were against Philadelphia’s Brandon Manning and Radko Gudas. If Oleksiak errs on the side of dropping them here and there, seven fights could turn into 12 pretty easily.


B. Right around the seven he had last year

On one hand, Oleksiak doesn’t have the showmanship gene that Ryan Reaves had. He’s not going to fight just for the spectacle of it or to prove he is a superior fighter to his opponent. On the other hand, Oleksiak is very aware of the fact that when push comes to shove, the 6-7 defenseman with 14 NHL fights to his credit is going to be the one who has to handle business. Average those two competing characteristics out and seven scraps sounds about right.

Keep up with the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
The Penguins��� Jamie Oleksiak checks Flyers’ Michael Raffl during their second game of the Stanley Cup Playoff inside of PPG Paints Arena on April 13, 2018.The Penguins’ Jamie Oleksiak checks Flyers’ Michael Raffl during their second game of the Stanley Cup Playoff inside of PPG Paints Arena on April 13, 2018.
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