DALLAS — Jamie Oleksiak had his revenge game with the Dallas Stars before.
Oleksiak began his career with the Stars before he was traded to the Penguins in 2017; just over a year later, he was traded back to the Stars for the same draft pick he was originally dealt for.
Now a member of the Kraken, he returned to the American Airlines Center for the second time as a player the Stars let go. This time, he was left exposed to the expansion draft, and the Kraken selected him before signing him to a five-year, $23 million deal.
“It’s obviously a very different experience,” Oleksiak said. “It was good to see the guys in Dallas again, good to see the fans and get some sunshine in Dallas. But we’re here to do a job and that comes first and foremost.”
Instead of the revenge (or reunion) game most Kraken players received earlier this season, Oleksiak’s return comes during COVID restrictions for the Kraken and the Stars.
It’s the second Kraken road game since mid-December when they visited Anaheim and San Jose — where there were a few reunion games — and restrictions haven’t eased up despite that there are no Kraken players currently in COVID protocols.
“You have to be very aware around people and take proper precautions to make sure we’re all safe and don’t spread COVID,” Oleksiak said. “The beauty of technology is you can FaceTime guys and keep in touch in the year. It’s tough but just the world we live in right now.”
Oleksiak is averaging 19:25 time on ice per game, just shy of his career-high 20:29 a year ago with Dallas. Kraken coach Dave Hakstol cited his puck-moving skills as an asset and his ability as a two-way defender for his success with the Kraken.
He’s on pace to break career highs in individual high-danger chances, rebounds created, takeaways, and points, and already has a career-high nine assists in five-on-five play. On a team that has struggled in a lot of areas, Oleksiak has flourished in his new role.
“It’s always a special opportunity for a player to come back into a building and play against a team where he’s spent significant time and had significant amount of success,” Hakstol said. “So that’s real important for all of us in the dressing room to realize and understand and for Jamie much like everybody has come into a new team where all the roles are new, the people, the personalities are new, it’s finding that spot finding that role and he’s settling into his role with us.”
Several Kraken players have faced their old squads with larger roles than they held with their pre-Seattle teams, such as Jared McCann or Ryan Donato. Oleksiak was likely going to be a highly touted player in free agency after a strong 2021 campaign with the Stars, and he’s proven himself well with the Kraken.
Oleksiak has the potential to keep growing with the young franchise as it seeks its full identity, especially as a defender who can jump into the offense.
Like everyone else with the team, there’s still an adjustment period.
“I think its been a learning process this year, because I have a tendency to get overexcited and I’ve been working in the system to find my spots and think defense first and use my assets to defend first,” Oleksiak said. “I think we have a lot of speedy forwards and guys who like to make plays but it’s a matter of not sacrificing defense.”
Morgan Geekie missed his first game of the season Wednesday. According to Hakstol, he is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. He had been one of just four players — along with Adam Larsson, Alexander Wennberg, and Joonas Donskoi — to play in every game this season.
Max McCormick was recalled from the taxi squad and played in Geekie’s place, and that roster spot was opened by Jaden Schwartz being placed on injured reserve earlier in the week.
Scoring depth needed
Monday’s loss to the Avalanche saw Jared McCann tie his career high with his 14th goal along with tallies from Colin Blackwell and Marcus Johansson.
Down Schwartz and Brandon Tanev — in Tanev’s case, for the rest of the season — the Kraken are in need of scoring from more of their depth.
In some ways that’s more opportunity for other guys in the lineup, but they have to seize it.
“We do miss them,” Donato said. “A lot of guys are excited about the opportunity and eager to show what they can do. A lot of guys will, rather than getting nervous, actually are excited and want to take advantage of the opportunities.”
Without Geekie, even though he’s only notched 10 points this season, the forward depth has continued to take hits. That puts more reliance on players such as Donato (eight goals) to step into bigger offensive roles, and for players such as Donskoi, still seeking his first tally, or Johansson, who had a strong showing in Colorado, to follow that lead.