One of the most eye-opening facets of the Washington Capitals’ recent run of good play is that it’s come mostly without defenseman Mike Green. It’s taken a team effort to replace his minutes on the blue line, but the most exciting recent contributions have come from rookie Steven Oleksy.
When we say rookie, we’re not talking about a wet behind the ears prospect here. Oleksy is a 27-year old who grew up a Red Wings fan in the Detroit area. He played college hockey at Lake Superior State, then spent the first three years of his pro career bouncing around: to Las Vegas, Toledo and Idaho in the ECHL, Port Huron in the IHL and to the Lake Erie Monsters in the AHL.
Last season, Oleksy finally found a bit of stability, playing 50 games for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. That led him to Hershey for the beginning of the 2012-13 AHL campaign, and he impressed enough in his 55 games for the Bears that the Caps decided to sign him and call him up earlier this week.
Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of positive beginnings. Oleksy got his first NHL point with his parents watching during the Caps’ furious rally to topple the Bruins on Tuesday night. He followed that up with a pair of assists in the rout over the Florida Panthers on Thursday.
No one is going to mistake Oleksy for the Bruce Boudreau-era Green, and his career numbers suggest his offensive contributions will fade going forward. But the encouraging part is that he hasn’t looked at all out of place in the NHL, making a quick adjustment to playing the game at the top level.
He’s also an enthusiastic participant in the physical side of the game, as both Shawn Matthias and Mike Santorelli learned after being on the receiving end of his checks. Some Caps fans are already dreaming of pairing Oleksy with Dmitry Orlov if/when he ever gets healthy:
It’s gonna be hip-check city when Orlov comes back.
— Sick, Unbelievable (@sickunbelievabl) March 8, 2013
What we haven’t seen in his first two games is Oleksy dropping the gloves. We know he’s willing to to do it, racking up 11 fighting majors in Hershey. At six-feet, 195 pounds, he’s not a heavyweight by any means, but sometimes the slightly smaller guys throwing down get the fans and fellow players going even more.
Even if his play drops off a bit, Oleksy should be in the mix when Green is healthy again. He’s earned that much. With Roman Hamrlik already off to New York and Tom Poti headed back to Healthy Scratch Land, the Capitals defense corps is finally getting a bit of a refresh. From what we’ve seen of Oleksy so far, that’s a good thing.