Penguins defenseman Jamie Oleksiak excited for playoff debut
Seven years after he was a first-round NHL Draft pick, Jamie Oleksiak was one game away from his first Stanley Cup playoffs appearance.
So, after the 5-4 overtime victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets last Thursday, the 25-year-old Penguins defenseman finally asked his teammates what to expect in the postseason.
“I was curious how close that rated to a playoff game,” said Oleksiak, who played in 140 NHL games over six seasons with the Dallas Stars without a postseason experience. “Guys were saying it was pretty close, in terms of emotions. That kind of gave me a good feel of what it’s going to be like.”
Oleksiak is one of only several Penguins who will make their postseason debut Wednesday night when they play the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at PPG Paints Arena – and he couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity.
“It’s something you always say: You want to play in the playoffs,” Oleksiak said, trying to temper his enthusiasm. “The closer and closer it’s getting, it’s a little bit more like it’s another game.
“After you play an 82-game season, you’re already in the mindset of playing games. It’s no different in playoffs. Obviously, the games are going to be cranked up a little bit. It’s going to be emotional but it’s the same game we’ve been playing all year.”
Acquired from Dallas in December, the 6-foot-7, 255-pound Oleksiak feels fortunate to have joined the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. He won a bronze medal with Canada in the World Junior Championships in 2012 and the Calder Cup with the Texas Stars in ’14.
“That was an incredible experience,” Oleksiak said. “It’s hard to compare NHL and AHL but I think that was, just in terms of getting in big-game situations like that, the competition and emotion is pretty similar, and I think I was kind of fortunate to get that experience.
“Maybe the level of hockey isn’t the same, but in terms of emotions and just being in the grind of playing a game and a day off, playing a game and a day off and all of that kind of business, it was huge for me. Getting that experience and being in big-game situations, both in the Calder Cup playoffs and World Juniors, you can say what you want about the level but the emotion and the situations you are put in are similar. I was fortunate to get those experiences under my belt.”
Asked if he’s ready to add a Stanley Cup to his Calder Cup, Oleksiak showed that he’s learned at least one thing from his Penguins teammates about Stanley Cup superstitions: He knocked on the wooden bench at his locker stall before answering that question.
“One day, you know?” Oleksiak said. “It’s a goal.”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review sports columnist. You can contact Kevin by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .