It will be a special night for two of the Dallas Stars’ top prospects Thursday night. Defenseman Jamie Oleksiak and goaltender Jack Campbell, both first round picks, will be in the lineup as the Stars take on the Colorado Avalanche at American Airlines Center.
Campbell, a first round pick (11th overall) in 2010, is expected to play the second half of tonight’s game, splitting time with starter Kari Lehtonen.
“I’m pretty excited,” Campbell said after this morning’s skate at the AAC. “I put a lot of hard work in this summer and this is a great opportunity. I couldn’t be more honored that they want me to play for them tonight. It’s really special.”
This is Campbell’s second NHL training camp. Last year was more a watch and learn experience.
“This year with one year of junior I am trying to show them what I can do this year, as opposed to last year when I was just around the guys,” said Campbell. “This year I have more of a purpose here and I am trying to show what I have every single day.”
Campbell, 19, had a strong showing in the team’s first camp scrimmage at the Charlottetown Civic Centre. He stopped six of seven shots in regulation and then four of five in the shootout.
“The team played well, the defense was good in front of me and I felt comfortable out there, confident and composed,” Campbell said. “I learned that from being out there with Kari and Andrew (Raycroft) every day. They just taught me to relax and things like that. I went out in the scrimmage and thought I did that, and tonight I am going to try to do the same.”
Oleksiak, the Stars’ first round pick (14th overall) in 2011, is expected to play Thursday night as well. This is Oleksiak’s first taste of an NHL training camp.
“It’s been phenomenal. I didn’t know what to expect coming in, but it’s been a great experience,” said Oleksiak. “I was kind of nervous coming in, being a younger guy, but the older guys have done a great job making me feel welcomed. It’s been a great time.”
One of those older guys helping show Oleksiak the way has been veteran defenseman Brad Lukowich. The two-time Stanley Cup winner helped guide Dallas defense prospect Philip Larsen through his first season with the Texas Stars in 2010-11 and he was Oleksiak’s partner during the first part of Dallas’ training camp in Prince Edward Island.
“He’s been phenomenal. He’s accomplished so much and hopefully someday I’ll accomplish close to as much as him. He’s like another coach out there,” said Oleksiak. “As a D partner, he sees all your moves. Coaches can’t always focus on one guy all the time, but your D partner sees you every shift. He’s been another coach to me and given me a lot of great insight and advice. I am trying to take it all in as much as possible. I just want to be a sponge out here during camp.”
Lukowich said he’s been impressed with the 18-year-old Oleksiak, who is listed at 6-7, 240 pounds.
“He’s a good skater, he’s got a good shot, he’s big and strong and the big thing I’ve noticed about him is how willing and eager he is to take criticism and learn the game at this level,” said Lukowich. “It’s a different game at junior, you can hold onto the puck a lot longer. You say something to this guy and he doesn’t make the same mistake twice. “
Oleksiak had a nice showing in the Stars’ scrimmage at the Charlottetown Civic Centre on Sunday. He shook off some early nerves and had one of the better defensive rushes of the game, slipping by defenseman Brenden Dillon and getting off a quality scoring chance.
“There were some nerves, but once you get the pace and a feel for the game you kind of get used to it,” Oleksiak said. “It’s just a matter of sticking to your game and not getting overwhelmed. You just have to be ready for what you have to do and how you have to play.”
Lukowich could see the progress in the big guy’s play over the course of the scrimmage.
“I looked at the scrimmage and thought how much he had improved himself, listening to the coaches and his partner. I thought he had a great game,” said Lukowich. “It was a little sloppy early but, between the two of us as partners, we got on the same page and he played really well. “
With Oleksiak’s size the comparisons to Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara are inevitable. Oleksiak said he tries to model his game after the big Bruins defenseman. What impresses Lukowich, who saw Chara in his early playing days, is how far along Oleksiak is at such a young age.
“I played against Chara in junior and he was kind of like a giraffe. He was just this big lumbering guy,” said Lukowich. “You look at him now and he’s got this nice stride, he gets where he needs to be and you don’t beat him because if he does get that step on you he’s got that long stick and he’s smart when he doesn’t put himself out of position. And for Oleksiak, at 18, to already know how to use your body as an asset and as an advantage, this kid will be in a Stars’ uniform real early.”
But for Oleksiak and Campbell, there will still be more seasoning in junior hockey. Both players are expected to be sent back to their junior teams soon. Campbell will play for Windsor of the OHL and Oleskiak will also be in the OHL, playing for Saginaw.