No one in the St. Louis Blues
organization has told T.J. Oshie
that he must be on the team's NHL roster next season. No one really has to, either.
"I can sense it a little bit just from being around town," Oshie, the Blues' first-round pick in 2005, told NHL.com. "People are talking. There are expectations, but I'm not really too worried about them. I'm not letting it get to my head too much."
Oshie plans on living up to those expectations soon enough, but the hype began May 13 when he signed his first professional contract. Oshie followed that up the next day with a press conference, where he sat between Blues President John Davidson
and Lars Eller
, another former first-rounder who also signed his entry-level deal.
With the welcome mat rolled up now, Oshie has to show Davidson, Larry Pleau
and the Blues' team of executives why he's worth all the fuss.
"He's a dogged hockey player and a smart hockey player," Davidson told NHL.com. "He can make plays at top speed. He can play the wing or center ice. There is nothing not to like about him. He'll be given every opportunity."
Oshie could have signed his first pro contract last summer, but felt another year of maturing at the University of North Dakota was warranted. He finished the season with 45 points, capping a remarkable collegiate career that included 142 points in 128 games, three trips to the Frozen Four and consideration for the Hobey Baker Award.
"Everybody comes to camp to compete for a job and he'll have to do the same thing, then we'll see where he's at," Jarmo Kekalainen
, the Blues' assistant general manager and chief amateur scout, told NHL.com. "He's been one of the best college hockey players in the country. He has taken his team to the Frozen Four twice in a row as one of the best players on that team. Those are the things that build the expectation and I think he has those expectations for himself. We definitely have them, but it does come down to how he does in September."
Even with much to prove, Oshie said his friends and family are already thinking of booking trips to see him in St. Louis.
"The boys in North Dakota, they keep telling me I'm going to do fine and they're going to all be watching me," Oshie said. "All my family wants to make it to every game, so they're looking for tickets. It's overwhelming. I think they're ahead of themselves, but it's great. I don't think it's really going to hit me until I get to camp and see where I am."
Where he is right now is at the top of the Blues' growing list of prospects, along with fellow center Patrik Berglund
and Eller. Davidson and Kekalainen say Oshie and Berglund have the best shots to make the team out of training camp; but Oshie feels he'll probably make it as a winger instead of a center only because of maturity.
"I would probably guess winger right away, being a rookie," he said, "but I would like to move to the center position in the future."
Oshie admits he's nervous about coming to camp. It has nothing to do with his talent and everything to do with him not being familiar with the NHL game.
"I feel good, but I haven't skated with the big guns yet," Oshie said. "They told me to expect a faster game. The game is a lot different than it is in college. Once I adapt I should be OK. I think I'm just wondering if I will be able to keep up and be able to contribute."
It's not as if Oshie isn't clued in to the NHL game. One of his good friends is Chicago's Jonathan Toews
, a former UND teammate. Oshie stayed in touch with Toews, the second runner-up for the Calder Trophy this past season, by picking his brain about the pro game.
Toews told Oshie that he found it to be easier for faster, skilled forwards to make plays in the NHL because of the restrictions on clutching and grabbing, which don't exist in the college game.
"At the college level, clutching and grabbing is a good play for a defenseman," Oshie said. "Johnny Toews was talking to me about how much easier it is to make plays (in the NHL) because you don't have guys all over you. In college, guys were all over him and that's why he didn't put up the big numbers."
"The boys in North Dakota, they keep telling me I'm going to do fine and they're going to all be watching me. All my family wants to make it to every game, so they're looking for tickets. It's overwhelming. I think they're ahead of themselves, but it's great. I don't think it's really going to hit me until I get to camp and see where I am." -- T.J. Oshie
Oshie has been putting up numbers ever since he laced up the skates as a toddler. He said he was about 4-1/2 years old when he started skating, and a year later added a stick and pads to his equipment bag.
"The only thing I remember is they put me with all of the older kids in the skating classes," said Oshie, who was born in Mt. Vernon, Wash. "I was picking it up faster than the rest of the kids my age."
Oshie, though, claims he has never patterned his game after anyone in particular.
"I didn't really watch too much hockey when I was younger," Oshie said. "I kept my eye on Gretzky, because he was a big deal. Pavel Bure
was a big name growing up in Washington. He was an idol for all the kids, but I think I play my own style."
It's a style that not only includes skills and competitiveness, but an edge, too.
"There's so many things that we like about him," Kekalainen said. "It's hard to hide your excitement I guess."
Enough said, at least for now.
Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org