Thursday, September 22, 2016

Washington Capitals 2016-2017 Previews -- Forwards: T.J. Oshie

T.J. Oshie

“No sooner do we think we have assembled a comfortable life than we find a piece of ourselves that has no place to fit in.”
-- Gail Sheehy

T.J. Oshie was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in 2005 and played seven seasons for the parent club.  By the time he completed his seventh season with the club, he was among the franchise leaders in games played (443/T-22nd), goals (110/23rd), assists (200/18th), points (310), and plus-minus (plus-71/5th).  He was one of 14 players in team history to record more than one career hat trick (he had two), and he was 12th in team history in games with three or more points (15).

Something, however, was missing.  Despite a solid record in regular season play that would have – should have – made him a bedrock foundational player for the Blues, his postseason performances were substantially less impressive.  In five postseasons with St. Louis, Oshie appeared in 30 games and managed only five goals and nine points.  The plus-71 player of seven regular seasons was minus-12 in those 30 postseason games.

With five playoff appearances in his seven seasons and only once moving past the first round, and underperforming on an individual level compared to his regular season output, there was a part of Oshie that increasingly seemed not to fit.  And so, he was traded to the Washington Capitals for forward Troy Brouwer, prospect goalie Pheonix Copley, and a third round draft pick.

Oshie slid in on the right side of the top forward line for the Caps, and he fit quite well.  His 26 goals in 80 games was a career best.  His 11 power play goals was a career high and exceeded his total of the previous three seasons in St. Louis combined (10).  He posted his best shooting percentage (14.1), set a career high in faceoffs taken (262) while finishing above 50 percent in wins for the first time, posted his second-highest blocked shot (62) and credited hit (134) total, and he tied a career best in credited takeaways.

Fearless’ Take…

Then there were the playoffs.  Oshie had six goals in 12 games, more than doubling his career total (from 5 to 11).  He more than doubled his career postseason point total (from 9 to 19). He had two game-winning goals – one in overtime – his first two game-winners in his postseason career (both of them against Pittsburgh, which isn’t nothing).  He took 59 faceoffs, which might not sound too significant until you see that he took a total of 28 draws in 30 previous postseason games.  And he won 59.3 percent of those 59 draws.  The Caps won four of the six games in which he scored, lost four of six in which he did not.  Put another way, his six playoff goals in 12 games doubled the number Troy Brouwer, the player he replaced, posted in 35 postseason games for the Caps.  His ten points was one more than Brouwer posted in almost three times as many contests.

Cheerless’ Take…

You gonna be Oshie’s campaign manager, cuz?  OK, so it’s hard to really find much fault with the year he had.  He scored, he possessed, he playoffed.  But 19 even strength assists and 25 in all?  He had fewer assists than two defensemen and Justin Williams, playing on the top line.  The 25 assists ties for the fewest Oshie has had in a season in which he appeared in more than 50 games (he had 25 in 57 games in his rookie season).  He didn’t have assists in consecutive games over the last 31 games of the season and had only nine in those 31 games, three of them against the woeful Toronto Maple Leafs on March 2nd (a 3-2 Caps win).

The Big Question… Was last season an outlier, the hilltop of T.J. Oshie’s potential for production?

Looked at in the context of his career before arriving in Washington, the 2015-2016 season was something of an odd one for T.J. Oshie.  In seven seasons with St. Louis he never averaged less than 0.23 goals per game and never more than 0.27 goals per game, a rather tight band across the years.  With the Caps, that number jumped to 0.33 goals per game, a 22 percent improvement on his career best.  His performance range for assists is a bit broader, from 0.39 per game at its lowest and at 0.50 per game at its highest, but the departure from the range is just about as stark in 2015-2016.  Oshie averaged 0.31 assists per game.  What it means, strangely enough, is that Oshie’s points per game in 2015-2016 (0.64) lies comfortably within the range he posted over seven years with the Blues (0.63-0.76), if somewhat at the low end of it.  In that sense, perhaps Oshie might see a bit of a regression from his goal scoring (that career best shooting percentage sticks out some, although it is not wildly above his previous career highs).  It is in those assists where there might be movement, if Oshie is to improve on his point totals from last season.

In the end…

T.J. Oshie was about as good a fit as one might have expected to provide some punch and stability on right side of the Caps’ top forward line.  He was consistent, not going more than five games without a point all season, and he was productive, one of seven Capitals since the 2004-2005 lockout to record 26 or more goals in a season (Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin are the only Caps to do it more than once).  The bonus was his playoff performance, one that saw him become just the fifth player to record a postseason of ten or more points in the post-2004-2005 lockout era with the Caps (Alex Ovechkin (four times), Nicklas Backstrom (twice), Alexander Semin, and John Carlson are the others).

Oshie will not turn 30 years of age until December.  He is in what is usually seen as the prime chronological years of his career.  There is little to suggest that 2015-2016 was an aberration, or even necessarily a ceiling for him.  But although Oshie has demonstrated himself to be a fine fit in Washington, it is not something with which he or anyone else in Capitals Nation should be comfortable.  There is too much more work to be done.

Projection: 80 games, 25-26-51, plus-14

Photo:  Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America