Thursday, September 22, 2022

Washington Capitals 2022-2023 Previews -- Forwards: T.J. Oshie

T.J. Oshie

“It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things.”
-- Theodore Roosevelt

It was back in 2005.  The NHL lost the 2004-2005 season to a lockout, and the draft was based on a lottery system.  We won’t get into that, only to say that this was the “Sidney Crosby” draft.  Who he would go to sucked all the oxygen out of the room in terms of coverage.  Once that question was answered, Caps fans attention turned to who the team would select.  When their turn came up, they selected Sasha Pokulok.  That was a surprise, to say the least, and as it turned out, not a pleasant one. Pokulok would be one of three players never to suit up for an NHL game.  After that pick, Caps fans might be forgiven for moving on to other things.  What they missed was the St. Louis Blues selecting a forward who played for the Sioux Falls Stampede in the USHL and Warroad High School Warriors – T.J. Oshie. 

As it turned out, while Crosby was (and remains) the class of that draft, Oshie might have been the biggest steal of that draft.  Taken with the 24th pick, he ranks 13th in his draft class in games played (900), fifth in goals (271), sixth in assists (364), fifth in points (635), third in plus-minus rating (plus-111), fifth in power play goals (83), sixth in power play points (192), fourth in shorthanded goals (nine) and points (18), sixth in overtime goals (four), sixth in game-winning goals (42), ninth in credited hits (1,357), 13th in blocked shots (624), and second in takeaways (637).

But it has come at a price.  Oshie plays much larger than his size, fearless about mixing it up physically with players who are larger and unafraid to go into high traffic areas to make a play.  He has been among the most overachieving players of his generation, but he also appeared in 900 of 1,075 games on the schedule over his 14-year career (83.7 percent).  With the Caps he appeared in 457 of 535 scheduled games to date (85.4 percent).  Last season, he dressed for 44 of 82 games, missing 38 games to a variety of injuries – 10 games in November (lower body), six-games to start December (foot), a game at the end of December (COVID), three games in January (illness), 14 games in February (upper body), four games in March (lower body).  It held him to a scoring line of 11-14-25, minus-12.

Odd Oshie Fact… T.J. Oshie is the only player in Capital history born in the state of Washington.  He happens to be the all-time leader in NHL history in just about every meaningful career statistic among players born in Washington.  The only one he doesn’t lead is overtime goals.  His four career overtime goals trail the five posted by Tyler Johnson.

Fearless’ Take… It has been said different ways over his seven seasons with the Caps, but T.J. Oshie is the heart and soul of the Capitals.  They were 26-11-7 with him in the lineup, 18-15-5 in his absence.  They were 4-2-2 when he scored a goal, 12-3-4 when he recorded a point.  They were 15-8-1 when he was credited with at least two hits and, oddly enough, 6-1-2 in games in which he took a penalty.  That the Caps would be more successful with him in the lineup last season is not surprising.  Over his seven years with the Caps, the team averaged 1.35 standings points per game with him in the lineup (283-12-4-50) while averaging 1.26 standings points per game when he was out of the lineup (46-26-6). 

Cheerless’ Take… Whether a function of age, injuries, or both, last season had to rank as one of, it not the worst of Oshie’s career.  The 44 games were the fewest he played in a full 82 game season.  Ditto for goals (11), assists (14), and points (25).  His minus-12 rating was a career worst.  He had one game-winning goal, tying a career low.  His 17:27 in ice time per game is the second-lowest of his career and lowest as a Capital (16:35 in 2009-2009 as a rookie with St. Louis).  And ice time, while kind to him individually, was not kind to the Caps.  Oshie was 4-8-12 in the 15 games in which he skated at least 19 minutes, but he had a minus-2 rating in those games, and the Caps were just 6-4-5.  Meanwhile, the Caps did not lose a game in regulation when he skated 16:23 or less (12-0-1).

Potential Milestones to Reach in 2022-2023

  • 300 career goals (he has 271)
  • 500 games as a Capital (457)
  • 200 penalty minutes as a Capital (199)
  • 1,000 shots on goal as a Capital (914)

The Big Question… Have the years and his style of play made Oshie too susceptible to injury to be consistently productive?

T.J. Oshie will celebrate his 36th birthday two days before Christmas.  For any player, reaching the far side of 35 years of age means that the seasons are dwindling to a precious few, and Oshie’s history of injury suggests that there is a higher probability that he will miss at least some games this season (he has never played a full 82-game schedule and only once appeared in all of his team’s games in a season, dressing for all 69 games for the Caps in 2019-2020).

Given the Caps’ injury situation at forward, keeping Oshie in the lineup will be a tricky management challenge for the coaching staff.  His style of play does not include timidity when it comes to aggressiveness and determination on his part.  What it could mean is that Oshie’s ice time will be managed closely.  As noted, the Caps did not fare all that well when he had heavier ice time burdens last season.  The difficulty here could be on the power play.  Both he and Tom Wilson are right-handed shots who are naturals to play the pivot in the 1-3-1 power play that the Caps use.  Although his rehabilitation from knee surgery is said to be ahead of schedule, Wilson could still be out of the lineup through at least November.  Will Oshie get more work in that spot, where he could be subject to more wear and tear?  Or can he get some relief in the form of Connor Brown, who is also a right-handed shot and who has had considerable power play experience, to assume responsibilities in that area. 

In the end…

The Capitals are better with Oshie in the lineup that when he is not, as long as his ice time is in a manageable range.  That seems to be the recent experience, at least.  And while his numbers might not be quite what they were even just a few seasons ago, he seems to have that intangible quality to make his teammates better by having them feed off his energy.  Oshie is the rare breed of player who is productive and who, by force of will, resolve, and example, seems to make his teammates better.  The Capitals certainly need that combination of talents this season, the question being whether Oshie will be in the lineup often enough to exhibit those qualities.

Projection: 68 games, 17-18-35, plus-1