Since leaving Lake Superior State (Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan) after the 2008-09 season, gritty defenseman Steve Oleksy has been the epitome of a journeyman, playing for seven different minor league teams in five years. He’s played for the Port Huron Icehawks of the IHL; the Las Vegas Wranglers, the Toledo Walleye, and the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL; and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and the Hershey Bears of the AHL.
Monday night, with the Capitals needing a right-handed shooting defenseman in Mike Green’s absence (i.e. #brittlegroin), Oleksy got the call that young players dream about.
Over the offseason the Hershey Bears saw several key veterans sign elsewhere, such as future AHL Hall of Famer Keith Aucoin, 2011-12 AHL leading scorer Chris Bourque, and fan-favorite enforcer Joel Rechlicz. The team also had to deal with a peculiar problem due to the lockout: two head coaches, Mark French and new Caps bench boss Adam Oates. Capitals general manager George McPhee mandated that Hershey learn Oates’ new system, so that the organization’s minor league players could be used to it by the time NHL games started being played. All this change has seen the team scuffle to a .500 record through 34 games this season (16-16-1-1).
But now things are starting to look up. Before it was announced that the lockout had been lifted, Hershey had been getting its best goaltending of the year from Braden Holtby, who was recently named AHL player of the month for December. Stan Galiev, who had been struggling with his transition from junior hockey, is starting to look more comfortable on the ice and more worthy of his #29 prospect ranking from Hockey Prospectus. The organization also has a surplus of quality goaltenders in the ECHL knocking at the door of the AHL: Philipp Grubauer and 2012 seventh-round pick Sergey Kostenko.
On Saturday, after the Bears’ 3-1 loss to the Binghamton Senators, I asked French if this is the best he’s seen Braden Holtby play, if the sky is the limit for Riley Barber, and if Caps fans should be worried about Galiev’s early season struggles.