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More mature, complete Oshie has eyes on Sochi

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- Prior to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, St. Louis Blues forward T.J. Oshie admitted he was a long shot to represent the United States. Oshie wasn't going to allow his hopes to get too high.

"Then, I think it was just more so hope and pray, maybe I'll catch someone's eye," the Everett, Wash., native said.

Now, with the 2014 Sochi Olympics on the horizon, those visions are more skewed toward being there.

"I think now I've put myself in a good position to where I've established myself as an NHL player," Oshie said. "Now it just comes down to me playing the same way and playing well."

As the 2014 Sochi Olympics approach, a more mature, complete version of St. Louis Blues forward T.J. Oshie is confident he can turn the right heads to get picked for the U.S. roster. (Photo: Getty Images)

The 5-11, 189-pound right wing is playing well for the Blues. So well, that Pittsburgh Penguins and U.S. coach Dan Bylsma has taken notice of the 26-year-old's play.

"Maybe there's a different case for T.J. Oshie than you might have had going into this season," Bylsma said when the Penguins played in St. Louis in early November. "… With Oshie's grit and speed, it doesn't go long right now to not see his skill as well in his game."

Oshie is considered one of those "bubble" players that the USA brass will take into consideration when making the announcement of the final roster on Jan. 1, but through 29 games, Oshie has 26 points, which is his best pace in his sixth season. His 22 assists ranked eighth in the NHL through Tuesday.

Oshie's been dubbed the guy who brings the loudest energy on and off the ice as well as a high level of work ethic on a daily basis. But a lot of his success is linked to the play of his linemates this season: David Backes and Alexander Steen.

"They have a huge part to do with that," said Oshie, a teammate of Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews and New Jersey Devils center Travis Zajac at the University of North Dakota. "I think I've been getting more than usual time on the power play this year, and I think that's given me some points.

"It seems like all of my assists are basically just coming off forechecking and turning pucks over, whether it's being in the right spot or hitting my skate and someone scoring. It seems like those are just going in for me and I'm getting a lot of assists just off of my effort, so not too many highlight-reel passes. I think a lot of it is off my work ethic and also who I'm playing with."

Oshie, who has 74 goals -- which is ironically his jersey number -- and 221 points in 321 career games, is on pace for a 75-point season, which would be a career-best. His production in recent years has been the result of a mixture of maturation and most importantly, becoming a student of the game.

"I just always kind of played [hockey] and looked at it as being a fun thing," said Oshie, the 24th pick in the 2005 NHL Draft. "I was just getting by on my skill. When I got here, it seemed like my skill only got me so far and then I kind of leveled out. Now I'm really starting to become a student of the game.

"I think I was very inexperienced in the maturity department. Even now I still like to have fun in the locker room. I'm always smiling, I'm always messing around with the guys, but now there's a sense of business. There's a sense when I get to the rink, I'm coming in here and I'm going on the ice to win. I'm not going on the ice to get points, I'm not going on the ice to make a highlight-reel hit or goal. I'm coming to the rink now and I just want to win."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock knows as Oshie goes, chances are the Blues are likely going to follow suit.

"He's just such a major factor on our team," Hitchcock said of Oshie. "[Oshie] and Steen are the conscience of the team. It's good to see.

T.J. Oshie
Right Wing - STL
GOALS: 4 | ASST: 22 | PTS: 26
SOG: 47 | +/-: 11
"I think that just shows you the evolution of a player and quite frankly how long it takes. It takes four or five years before a player really gets a tune on what’s important."

When the Blues made the decision to commit long-term to Oshie in the summer of 2012 with a five-year, $20.875 million contract, it showed the faith they had in a player they felt would get better with time and experience and would someday assume a leadership role. Oshie was named one of the alternate captains this season for the first time.

"I think it's just a natural progression," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "I think [Oshie's] much more comfortable now, he's the type of player he can be and the type of player that can excel in the NHL. I think there's been maturity at and away from the rink, but I don't think it's any different for a player who's in their fifth or sixth year.

"This is the player I believed he was becoming, he envisioned being and we envisioned him being. He's a really talented two-way player. His game is more dynamic and more diversified than just points. He's a good penalty killer, he brings a positive energy on the ice and a positive energy in the locker room also. He's starting to assume some leadership responsibilities within the organization. I think that's something that he wants and he can continue to grow with over the next seven, eight, 10 years of his career."

Before signing his new contract, Oshie was playing on a one-year contract that produced career-highs in goals (19), assists (35) and points (54) in 2011-12. It was enough for the Blues to make the long-term investment.

"I think then it was time to relax a little bit here," Oshie said. "Let's grow up a little bit and all that matters is that the team is winning and we try to win a Stanley Cup."

Along with winning a Stanley Cup, a trip to the Sochi Games would be a nice post-Christmas gift, but Oshie won't allow himself to get wrapped up in those emotions. Not yet anyway.

"I don't know if I'd be able to describe what it would be like until I got there," Oshie said. "I don't know what to expect from Olympic village, I don't know what to expect from putting on that jersey and going out for a first Olympic game.

"It would be amazing to me. It would mean everything to me and my family. I don't know if I can express what it would be like until it actually happens."

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