2005 first-round pick feels mentally, physically as strong since turning pro
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- In between the hard workouts preparing for what he's hoping will be a breakout season, T.J. Oshie had plenty of time to reflect in his native Minnesota, where the Blues forward spent the majority of his summer.
And the conclusion the 24-year-old first-round pick in 2005 came to?
"I'm just looking forward. ... With everything that happened last year, the injuries and everything else, it all ended for me that last game," Oshie said. "Time to move ahead and look forward to the future."
T.J. Oshie (left) is ready to leave last season in the past and looking forward
to the 2011-12 season.
A tumultuous season a year ago began with so much promise for Oshie, born in Everett, Washington but who grew up in Warroad, Minnesota. He was part of the Blues' record-setting start (9-1-2). But when Oshie's left ankle buckled awkwardly and a broken left ankle ensued in Columbus in that unlucky 13th game, Oshie's season -- and the Blues' -- seemed to take odd twists the rest of the way.
Oshie would miss the next 31 games with that fractured ankle, and a myriad of injuries would seem to follow for the team. The Blues seemed to die a slow death treading in quicksand, all while Oshie's season would catapult downward as well.
There would be an incident where Oshie missed an unexcused practice that would result in the team sitting him for two games. Quietly, Blues management was none too pleased with what happened, and it was quite the eye-opener for Oshie.
There would be another injury. This time, a broken thumb that resulted in blocking a shot late in the season at Chicago. The team thought it would heal but it eventually required surgery after the initial healing process failed.
"I really didn't tell anyone about it," Oshie said of that injury. "A lot of guys on the team didn't even know. I just kind of kept it to myself. ... It was hard, but it's back to 100 percent now. Even when I was working out, I had three pins (sticking out) of my thumb. I had a little cast on there. Other than that, it's 100 percent now, but it was a tough stretch in the summer."
It was a humbling season for Oshie, who finished with 12 goals and 22 assists in 49 games. But instead of sulking on what went wrong and why it went wrong, Oshie decided to better himself both physically and mentally after getting a one-year, $2.35 million contract that took longer than expected to come to fruition. Judging by his ability to finish among the leaders Friday during the fitness and conditioning testing with 13.5 levels, Oshie's off-season workouts proved to be worth the time and energy.
"I didn't take very much time off," said Oshie, who spent the majority of his time working out at the Minnesota Hockey Camps. "I took two weeks off, got in the weight room and got right back at it. Other than that, I only took one week off in the summer (for teammate Alex Steen's charity golf tournament in Winnipeg). Other than that, I've been going strong for I don't even know how many weeks it is now.
"Instead of dwell on it and think about it, I think I learned from (sitting out two games). I think I learned from it pretty quickly. I'm ready to put it behind me and have a successful year."
There are those that question whether Oshie will ever mature as a player on and off the ice. But ask teammate Chris Stewart, it's not something Oshie's teammates think too much about.
"Right from the get-go ... the first two days he missed, he took the money from his paycheck and donated it to charity. That was a step in the right direction," Stewart said. "You can tell from the shape that he came into camp that he's ready to go.
"I've known Osh for a long time, we're represented by the same agency. I go up for the last week of summer up there in Minnesota where he's from ... he's first-class. Any time you come to a Blues practice, he's hopping, he's skipping, he's energetic and he's the best player on the ice and there's no reason why he can't do that in the game.
"He's hungry. You can see it. Not that he wasn't hungry before. He's going to be the first to tell you how hungry he is this year. He's the poster child of this organization. He doesn't want to let the boys down and he's a guy we know we can count on."
Oshie had one healthy year in 2009-10 when he played in 76 games and scored 18 goals to go with 30 assists. Many thought it was the coming out party for the 24th overall pick.
"All three years, I've had something bother me or bug me in some way," Oshie said. "I think if anything I've thought about more so is the team-oriented goals. It was a challenge having to watch other teams playing, especially in April through June when you're supposed to be out there, or you want to be out there."
T.J. Oshie says he's as mentally and physically strong as he's ever felt.
Oshie is in that core group that the Blues have been touting as "young" players for a few seasons now. They're hitting their prime and some in the organization believe the franchise needs to be carried forward by these "young" guys, including Oshie.
"I personally don't consider them young players," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "I consider them experienced NHL players that are into that core now that they're going to dictate what type of season we're going to have."
Added Blues coach Davis Payne, "They understand what it takes to have success in this league, they understand what it takes to prepare in this league, they understand the difference between winning and losing and how to control those situations. These guys realize that. Based on their growth, that's why our expectations are where they are."
But instead of worrying about what he can do, Oshie has his sights set on more than just personal goals.
His motivation going forward?
"I think just winning ... winning games, being healthy," he said. "I think most of the reason I've worked out is because I want to be in that January-February stage where everyone's tired, everyone's kind of going through that little slump where you're playing every other night, that's where I want to be at my best. That's where I want to shine. I've got to be healthy and strong at that time. I think that's my biggest motivation, to get to the playoffs, to live up to the hype that's kind of around St. Louis."
Oshie will have a the opportunity to fulfill that hype playing alongside close friends Patrik Berglund and Stewart. The trio is expected to make up the Blues' second line this season, and they are going into it with a full head of steam ... and plenty of confidence.
"We feel like when we're on the ice together, we don't have to worry about who we're playing against," Stewart said. "I think it should be the other way around, you should be worried about us when we're on the ice. That's the whole approach to the air. We're not going to sit there and be passengers and look at other teams. It's our time now."
"It's a deadly combination," he said. "I think it just comes down to building a little bit of chemistry and keep it going."
But being mentally ready for the challenges and physically up to par is what Oshie feels like will help him through a full season without any interruptions. He's ready for the task at hand.
"I'd say mentally it is for sure I'm as strong as I've ever been," Oshie said. "I'm definitely in the best shape. I'm the leanest I've been yet. It just comes down to getting through camp and showing what my summer was like."