Pittsburgh Penguins Should Call Up Steven Oleksy


Ben Lovejoy is out with an injury and the Pittsburgh Penguins have many rough games coming up. To deal with both issues, they must call up a physical defenseman.

It’s the final stretch of the 2015-2016 regular season and the Pittsburgh Penguins do not have an easy schedule. Many of the upcoming games are against divisional and conference rivals, promising to be physical and chippy. They are also all must-win games.

Defenseman Ben Lovejoy was injured in the Pens’ last game agains the Tampa Bay Lightning. First, he blocked a Steven Stamkos shot down low, and then took a painful hit, knocking him out of the game. He’s now out with an upper-body injury.

Promisingly, forwards Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bonino are practicing with the team again, albeit in no-contact jerseys. However, when they return, the Penguins need to do everything they can to ensure that the centers stay healthy.

The solution: call up a hard-hitting defensemen from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton who has NHL experience.

Steven Oleksy is the obvious choice to add to the Pittsburgh lineup. At 30 years old, he’s spent his career moving between the NHL’s Washington Capitals and their AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears. With the advent of Tom Wilson and Michael Latta in Washington, Oleksy’s services were no longer needed and he signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Penguins this past offseason.

Oleksy is more than just an enforcer, though. He would add some experience to the back end, possibly slotting in with young Derrick Pouliot in Lovejoy’s spot. When he was called up to Washington to make his NHL debut, he made an immediate impact in their comeback win with an assist. 

Lovejoy isn’t a brilliant scorer, though he did get a goal recently which is impressive in and of itself. Oleksy doesn’t have to be one either. That isn’t what the Penguins need him for (thankfully).

The Penguins’ remaining 24 regular season games include one matchup each against the Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, and Columbus Blue Jackets, and three each against the Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, and New York Rangers.

That’s a major slice of the schedule wrapped up in games we can reasonably predict to all be fairly physical if not vicious. The Blue Jackets especially have never shied away from intentionally trying to injure Sidney Crosby, and having someone to hold players like Brandon Dubinsky accountable for that would be beneficial.

Though in recent chippy games other players have stepped up to that plate, including Carl Hagelin and Crosby himself, their speed and scoring skills are both too important to the Pens’ game to lose them to the penalty box or to an injury.

So the question is, then, why Oleksy? Why not put Ian Cole back in the lineup, since he’s already in Pittsburgh as a perennial healthy scratch? Why not call up Tom Sestito, a 6’5″, nearly 230-pound forward?

Cole was something of a bust for Pittsburgh, who traded away their only physical defenseman with intimidating size (Robert Bortuzzo) to acquire him. Though Bortuzzo wasn’t always in the lineup either, the Pens lost his presence, which was important both in the locker room and on the ice. Cole may well be on the trading block again, and so wouldn’t be a solution if Lovejoy turns out to be injured for some time – which, head coach Mike Sullivan told the press this afternoon, will be the case. 

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Sestito has also had minimal effect on his teams other than providing brute force. The main argument against calling him up is that, even though much of the forward lineup now is composed of Wilkes-Barre guys like him, they’re finally clicking and providing offense and an energetic spark for the team. There’s no sense in breaking up what’s consistently been the most effective part of the Penguin team.

There’s an available spot in the lineup for Oleksy, both in literal terms of an absent defenseman and intangibly, as his role as a big-bodied fighter. Since the remaining schedule provides a sky-high amount of rough-and-tumble games, what is there to lose by giving Oleksy a chance? We’ve seen how Cole fits with the team and how he plays; now it’s time to let someone else try.