|Blues President John Davidson (right) and T.J. Oshie pose for a photo after Oshie signed his first professional contract on May 13, 2008. |
Better late than never, they say, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to Blues prospect T.J. Oshie
Despite having the strength and skill necessary to succeed at the highest level, Oshie passed up opportunities to turn pro, instead opting to return to the University of North Dakota for another shot at a national title.
But that was then.
This is now, and Oshie says he’s ready to drop the puck on his professional career.
“Last year, I think mostly it was just maturity,” he said about the decision to return to college for another season. “I don’t think I was quite ready to grow up and be a professional player. Now I think I am, and I’m ready to go.”
Oshie proved it by signing his first professional contract with the Blues on Tuesday, officially closing the book on a college career that included three Frozen Four appearances, Hobey Baker Award consideration as college hockey’s most valuable player and 142 points (59 goals, 83 assists) in 129 games.
Leaving behind success like that certainly didn’t come easy for the Blues’ first round draft pick in 2005.
“We’re all best friends on the team, we’re all a tight group of guys and we battle for each other,” Oshie said about his North Dakota teammates. “It was really tough. After our last game there, I kinda knew it was the last time I’d be hanging the (Fighting Sioux jersey) up. It’s pretty emotional, but I’m proud to throw a (Blues sweater) over it now.”
For Blues management, who has shown patience as they wait for the team’s prospects to develop, this week’s events have been a long time in the making. Lars Eller, who was the team’s first round pick (13th overall) in 2007, also signed his first pro contract this week.
“It’s an exciting time for our hockey club,” said Blues President John Davidson. “We’ve been talking a lot about our future and we’ve got a couple of key components right here that are a big part of the future of the Blues.”
“We’re committed to young players, and with Lars Eller and T.J. Oshie
, we’ve added two more ingredients to our team. It’s an encouraging sign to see these young guys sign,” added Blues coach Andy Murray. “You come to training camp with the idea that you’re going to make the Blues, not next year, not the year after, but this year. That’s what we expect. And if they can help make us a better team, they’ll be in our lineup on opening night."
Oshie becomes the first player to leave UND this season for the pros. In recent years, the Fighting Sioux have lost Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Ottawa’s Brian Lee to the lure of professional hockey.
“T.J. is ready for this step in his career,” North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol told the Grand Forks Herald. “Getting to the NHL is a big step and nobody takes it for granted, but in my opinion, he’s ready for that challenge.
“I think he’s one of those special players that only comes around every so often. The level he plays at every single night is something special. You can think to all areas of his game – the highlight hits, the highlight back-checks, the highlight defensive plays and the highlight-reel goals. The energy and passion he plays the game with is special.”
Oshie hopes to be part of the Blues roster when the season starts again in October. But for now, he’s trying to enjoy the first few days of being a pro.
“It’s all I thought it would be,” he said. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this (and) it’s finally coming true.”