Surprisingly, one of the most popular players in the NHL is T.J. Oshie of the Washington Capitals. I say surprisingly because it’s uncommon for such a popular player to have a career-high total of 60 points in a season. However, Oshie has found his way into the spotlight in a league where stardom is reserved for the greats of the game, and that’s because his value to the Capitals can’t be understated.
The Capitals acquired Oshie from the St. Louis Blues on July 2, 2015, in exchange for Troy Brouwer, Pheonix Copley (who the Capitals would reacquire shortly after) and a 3rd-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft (which the Capitals would reacquire shortly after). This trade should be considered one of, if not the greatest trade in Capitals history.
What Oshie brings to the Capitals, and has brought since he arrived, is energy, which is rare. He has an unmatched excitement about playing hockey, and especially about playing it in his nation’s capital. When he’s at the rink, he often seems like a kid who is just beginning to play, as opposed to a man who has been playing for over 25 years. This video is case and point.
When discussing Oshie’s energy, retired former teammate, Brooks Orpik, said, “I don’t think I’ve ever played with a guy who has the combination of his talent on the ice and that energy,” (from ‘Forget the 30 goals, T.J. Oshie earned his contract in the Capitals’ locker room’, Washington Post, November 8, 2017)
Oshie carries this same energy into every game. You will never see him take a shift off, either offensively or defensively. He backchecks just as hard as he forechecks and is one of the best battlers in the NHL. If he gets into a battle for a puck, it’s likely that he will come out with the biscuit. On a team where you have players like Alex Ovechkin who are capable of being effective standing still, it is vital to have a player like Oshie who has a motor in him that doesn’t allow him to stop.
A big part of his motor is emotion, which not only allows for more entertainment but also fantastic results on the ice. He grinds on the boards and in battles, and he will put his body on the line in any way he can. He blocks shots to ensure the puck gets out of his team’s zone. Even though he is a smaller player, he plays big and throws explosive hits and will fight anyone who challenges him.
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His emotions were never on display more than when the Capitals won the Cup and Oshie did an on-ice interview discussing his father, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Oshie is equally valuable because of his abilities with the puck, and he is one of the most creative players in the league. His puck-handling abilities fit right into the Capitals’ skilled and creative roster. He is also lethal in the shootout, as we saw in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
His ingenuity and imagination have helped him score 25 or more goals in four of his five seasons with the Capitals. He may not be the most prolific scorer, but he can consistently put the puck in the net, and sometimes in impressive fashion.
Not to mention, he has excellent on-ice vision which makes him a solid playmaker on the power play as well as a sniper.
Oshie’s combination of grit and skill makes him one of the Capitals’ most invaluable players when it counts — the playoffs — because of his versatility. He can adapt to any style of hockey and if the team needs goals, he can score when it counts most, like his two goals in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2018, or his hat trick in Game 1 vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the 2016 Playoffs. Oshie is a playoff player.
The man who brought Oshie to Washington believes he is a playoff player. When discussing Oshie and the postseason, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said, “We get into the playoffs, you notice him,” MacLellan said. “He brings you into the fight. He recognizes when the team’s a little flat, and he tries to go out and change the energy.”
For everything that Oshie brings to the team on the ice, he brings it to the locker room as well. His energetic presence and outgoing personality seem to get along with everyone. In the same Washington Post article, Orpik said of Oshie: “I think he’s a guy — I don’t want to say impossible — but he’s pretty hard not to like.”
What finally makes Oshie so valuable is that fans adore him thanks to his kind-hearted and humbling nature. He was a favourite when he played in St. Louis and immediately became one when he was traded to D.C. When Oshie became “T.J. Sochi” after scoring four of his six shootout opportunities against Russia to win Game 2 of Group A’s preliminary round during the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, he was labelled an American hero by the media. He was even congratulated via Twitter by the President of the United States, Barack Obama.
However, Oshie didn’t think he deserved the label and turned the attention to the United States Military in a remarkably humble gesture by the Minnesota-native.
When Oshie re-signed in 2017 for eight years, people had doubts, and reasonable ones. Ian Oland of Russian Machine Never Breaks said, “Oshie is also entering the backend of his career where a steep regression normally occurs,” when discussing Oshie’s contract extension. The contract keeps him in a Capitals’ jersey until he is 38 years old, but he is worth every cent and then some for what he brings to the team.
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Oshie is such a hardworking, skilled and charismatic player that I am sure that many people, myself at the forefront, could see him as the captain of the Capitals if they didn’t already have a generational talent who doubles as the face of the franchise. Since we know how humble Oshie truly is, I am sure that is just fine with him.