NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
There are those who are cool under pressure, and then there is T.J. Oshie.
The St. Louis Blues' forward seems to live for the high-stress moments, on the ice and off it. At his day job, Oshie has grown into a bankable NHL star thanks to his skills in the shootout. Away from the arena, Oshie has embraced becoming a fiancé, a father and a pillar of the St. Louis community in a span of months with even greater calm and confidence.
In six NHL seasons, Oshie is 27-for-48 (56.2 percent) in shootouts, including 9-for-12 last season. At the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Oshie's prowess approached legendary status when he converted four of six shootout attempts to lift the United States past Russia 3-2.
"It's the one thing in hockey where I'm very confident I'm going to score every time," Oshie said. "I think it's a big part of the game. [The Blues] used to not practice it ever, but over the last couple seasons I've been telling the coaches and goalie coaches, 'Hey, these are points, so we need to work on it.'"
Though his name unanimously topped NHL.com's list of shootout specialists, Oshie owns an impressive, and improving, set of all-around hockey skills. The 27-year-old had career highs in goals (21), assists (39), points (60) and plus-minus rating (plus-19) last season, but Oshie said he was "a little disappointed" with his output despite finishing second in points on a stacked Blues roster.
"Even though it was the most I've had, there was a lot more in there I should've had, a lot of opportunities I missed," Oshie said. "But as far as maturing and growing up, I think last year was mentally very good. I had to mature, I had to look at the big picture of things."
Much of that maturation process took place off the ice. Just before he left for Sochi, Oshie proposed to his longtime girlfriend, Lauren. On St. Patrick's Day, the couple welcomed their first child, Lyla Grace. She was born with an uncommon complication known as gastroschisis, where the intestines are outside of the stomach. Oshie spent a few restless nights on hospital-room recliners, but his production never dipped. Three weeks following a successful operation, the Oshies took Lyla Grace home.
"Being a new dad, I knew it would be hard, but I don't think you really know how tired you can get until you have a baby," Oshie said. "But it's been great. I enjoy every minute of it. Whenever you're feeling bad or frustrated or tired of working out, you go and see her and she lights up the day a little bit."
Oshie likely needed a pick-me-up after the Blues sustained another early exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2014, an especially frustrating one for the Mount Vernon, Wash., native. After taking a 2-0 series lead in the Western Conference First Round against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Blues lost four straight and the series.
Oshie missed Game 1 as he recovered from an upper-body injury sustained on an illegal hit late in the regular season. By the time he returned to the series, scoring a goal each in Games 5 and 6, the momentum had shifted to Chicago for good.
Oshie said the Blues, who were knocked out by the Los Angeles Kings in two consecutive postseasons before last spring's loss to the Blackhawks, need to do "just a little bit more" in order to get over the hump.
Center Paul Stastny, who the Blues signed as a free agent this offseason, could be a key piece of the puzzle. Stastny and Oshie played alongside one another on the fourth line for the United States in Sochi and are potential linemates on coach Ken Hitchcock's opening-night roster.
"He just makes the game seem so simple on the ice," Oshie said of Stastny. "The guys that play with him, he just seems to make the game seem so much simpler for them too. He's very smart, probably one of the smartest players I've played with in terms of reading and reacting."
Between raising a daughter, leading the Walk to End Alzheimer's in St. Louis (Oshie's father, Tim, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's in June 2013), appearing at events like the PGA Championship and presenting at ESPN's ESPY Awards, Oshie had a busy summer. As is his nature, Oshie handled each event with aplomb and still found time to stay in shape and hone his skating efficiency.
Specifically, Oshie wanted to mimic the first stride his former University of North Dakota teammate, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, employs to blow past opposing defensemen.
"[Toews] has always had that," Oshie said of the burst. "I can remember one game he did it to a guy from [Minnesota State University] Mankato, [David] Backes' old school. He burned this defenseman, and he was just gone right after. And I thought, 'That's something I need to learn!' Unfortunately it took me eight years to learn it, but that was something."
Oshie wouldn't mind mimicking Toews in the Stanley Cup department either. For a player who revels in pressure situations, Oshie is hoping 2014-15 will see the Blues compete on the biggest, most pressurized stage of all: the Stanley Cup Final.
"It's not a big step -- we were real close to beating Chicago -- and once you get past one of the best teams in the League, who knows what would've happened after that," Oshie said. "As a team you hope everyone comes in in a little better shape, a little stronger, a little bit more focused, but not a lot. We're right there."
Author: Davis Harper | NHL.com Staff Writer