“Diligence is the mother of good luck.”
-- Benjamin Franklin
He does not have a fancy hockey pedigree, having grown up north of Detroit, Michigan. He did not attend a hockey powerhouse, his Lake Superior State Lakers skating to a 42-59-18 record in his three years at LSSU. He was not drafted, catching on with the Las Vegas Wranglers in the ECHL. Then it was the Toledo Walleye, followed by the Port Huron Icehawks and the Idaho Steeheads, which was then followed up by stints in Lake Erie with the Monsters, back to Idaho with the Steelheads, and then to Bridgeport with the Sound Tigers.
Oleksy played 50 games in Bridgeport in the 2011-2012 AHL season, then was signed as a free agent by the Hershey Bears for the 2012-2013 season. He made an impression. In 55 games with the Bears he displayed a combination of the occasional offensive contribution (2-12-14, plus-5) and the frequent physical presence (151 penalty minutes, 52 of which were earned against the archrival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins). When Mike Green went out of the lineup with a recurrence of groin problems, Oleksy was called up.
He was never sent back down. Playing the last 28 games of the regular season for the Caps, Oleksy tied for third among Caps defensemen in points (nine), tied for third in plus-minus, was second in penalty minutes (33), and was third in hits (58). And, in the “announcing his presence with authority” file, he recorded an assist in his first NHL game, two more in his second game, then his first NHL goal in his fourth contest on his way to a 1-8-9, plus-9 finish.
There was something of a good luck charm quality to Oleksy’s play. Most of Oleksy’s ice time at 5-on-5 was spent with Jack Hillen (30.7 percent) and Karl Alzner (24.9 percent). Both of these players realized better GF20 (goals scored by team per 20 minutes of ice time) and GA20 (goals scored against per 20 minutes of ice time) when paired with Oleksy than when playing apart from him (numbers from stats.hockeyanalysis.com).
There was a certain “adrenaline rush” aspect to his game, too. In his first 15 games he was 1-5-6, plus-4, 17 shots on goal, and 29 penalty minutes, 15 of them coming in three fights. In his last 13 regular season games he was 0-3-3, plus-5, eight shots on goal, and four penalty minutes. More disciplined, or did the rush wear off?
Odd Oleksy Stat… The Caps were 11-3-0 in games in which Oleksy did not register a shot on goal, 8-5-1 in games in which he did (only six of those wins coming in regulation).
Game to Remember… March 14th vs. Carolina. The Caps were in a tough spot on a mid-March night in Raleigh. Mike Green was out with a groin injury. Tom Poti was playing in just his third game after missing the better part of two seasons to injury. Tomas Kundratek would play only 3:14 in this game before goingout with a leg injury. Guys had to step up on the blue line. Oleksy did. He logged 27:55 in ice time (his high for the season, the game after getting just 11:50 in ice time against these same Hurricanes), and while he did not record a point, he had two shots on goal, two hits, a takeaway, and four blocked shots. More important, Carolina did not score a goal when he was on the ice. The Caps won, 3-2.
Game to Forget… March 16th vs. Boston. Wouldn’t you know it, in his next game, Oleksy was the guy burned whenever he was on the ice. The Caps were missing Mike Green and Tomas Kundratek on the blue line, so Oleksy got a ton of ice time again (24:01). And he was more active in the offensive end than in his previous game – eight shot attempts, four of them on goal. But he was on ice for Boston’s first three goals, and on each of them, he was the closest Capital defenseman to the goal scorer. It was a 4-1 win for the Bruins.
Post Season… The Caps used only six defensemen in the post-season, and as one might expect, Oleksy had the lowest average ice time (15:09 per game). Then again, only Karl Alzner was on ice for fewer even strength goals (two) than Oleksy (three). But all of them came in Capital losses, two of them game-winners, one of them when he got lost at the top of the circle and could not get back into the play before Derek Stepan’s game-winner in Game 4, and again in Game 6 when Derick Brassard’s slap shot hit his arm on the way through, the puck angling under goalie Braden Holtby’s glove for the game’s only goal.
In the end…
There is a certain ambivalence that attaches to Oleksy’s season. On the one hand, his is quite a story – an undrafted, unheralded player (he doesn’t have his own player page at tsn.ca, despite playing 28 games this season, and neither his NHL.com page nor his hockey-reference.com page have any of his history other than with the Caps) who is not exactly a youngster (27 years old), getting his shot after years of hard work and performing admirably. On the other hand, is he a top-six defenseman, not just on this team, but one that aspires to a championship? That is the uncertainty that comes from a 28-game stint after four years split among three different minor leagues (IHL, ECHL, and AHL). One is left to wonder if he has reached his upside. But that is a matter to ponder in September’s training camp. His 2013 season has to be considered a pleasant surprise, perhaps even lucky. But that luck comes after a lot of hard, diligent work.
Photo: Paul Bereswill/Getty Images North America