Courtesy of Point Park University

Penguins say they’ll hang ‘tough’ without Oleksiak


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Jamie Oleksiak. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

The 'Big Rig' is headed back down a familiar route.

The Penguins traded Jamie Oleksiak to the Stars for a fourth-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, Jim Rutherford announced Monday afternoon. They now own three fourth-round picks in 2019 -- their own, a conditional pick from the Sabres acquired in the Conor Sheary trade, and this pick, which originally belonged to the Wild and was acquired from the Coyotes in the Josh Archibald trade.

Oleksiak was originally acquired from the Stars on Dec. 19, 2017, in exchange for a 2019 conditional fourth-round draft pick -- the same exact pick that the Stars sent back to the Penguins today. He played in 36 games this season, recording four goals, seven assists, and a plus-5 rating.

At 6-feet-7, 255 pounds, Oleksiak had been the biggest player on the Penguins' roster -- and the second-heaviest in the NHL behind the Jets' Dustin Byfuglien. He had three of the Penguins' eight fighting majors this season, including a one-sided bout against the Capitals' Tom Wilson on Dec. 19 in which he suffered a concussion and missed three games. He'd been scratched in eight of the last 12 games since.

Oleksiak had the third-most hits of any Penguin this season with 97, trailing only Jack Johnson's 140 and Zach Aston-Reese's 101. With Oleksiak and his physical edge gone, do other members of the Penguins need to step up in his absence?

Garrett Wilson, another big hitter in the Penguins' lineup, doesn't seem to think so.

"I think we've got the toughness in here," Wilson told me following Monday's 6-3 loss to the Devils. "We have a team-tough mentality, stick up for each other whenever it need be. We just need to start battling harder, winning more 50-50 battles and playing a more consistent game."

So ... the Penguins can still play a tough, gritty style without huge, heavy hitters like Oleksiak?

"Yeah. The game has changed a lot in the past few years," Wilson said. "We've still got guys that play the body and play a physical game. ... We just have to play a more hard-to-play-against game."

The Penguins need to be cap-compliant for Justin Schultz to return from long-term injured reserve. With nine defensemen on the roster, the Penguins had to move one of them. With Oleksiak carrying a $2,137,500 cap hit and being a frequent healthy scratch of late, he was the obvious choice to be moved.

“We’ll miss him," said Kris Letang. "He’s a big guy and a good player, but we obviously have a lot of defensemen in Pittsburgh and Schultzie’s going to be back soon, so something had to happen.”

"It's tough," Wilson said of the off-ice impact of losing Oleksiak. "Anytime you lose a good guy like that, it's tough. But we're a tight group here. We need to come together here and find a way to start winning some hockey games."

When Schultz returns, Mike Sullivan can slot him on the second pair with longtime partner Olli Maatta while keeping the third pair of Johnson and Marcus Pettersson intact.

Sullivan spoke about the impact of Schultz's impending return following Sunday's practice in Cranberry.

"We believe in competition," said Sullivan. "We think it keeps us all at our best. The guys that we have, we do have some very capable guys. We believe in all of them. It will force the coaching staff to make difficult decisions, but those are good decisions to have to make. When you have to make those types of difficult decisions, you know you have real capable people that you can put in your lineup."

The Oleksiak trade was the first of those decisions.


[caption id="attachment_767291" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Penguins vs. Devils, PPG Paints Arena, Jan. 28, 2019 - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]

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