[This is the first of a certain-to-be-incomplete and sporadically-published series of stories on current Blues players and what is expected of them next year.]
The trajectory of of T.J. Oshie's path in the NHL has been decidedly unpredictable over his first three seasons. While his pro debut was anticipated with expectations that would be nearly impossible to meet, Oshie managed to deliver. Fueled by stories and YouTube videos from his career at North Dakota, Blues fans expected a physical player with excellent wheels and agility and a pair of hands that were gifts from the hockey gods themselves.
Unbelievably, he delivered on all that promise. Despite missing 25 games with an ankle injury as a rookie, Oshie captured the fascination of a Blues fanbase that had been suffering since the lockout. Oshie did everything that was hoped for, delivering devastating checks, scoring highlight reel goals (including his first, which didn't count in his totals, a game-winner shootout move that nearly tore Blackhawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin in half as he tried to stop it) and displaying an excited attitude that had been severely lacking on the team. By the end of that first year it wasn't surprising to hear the crowd break out in chants of "O-Shie! O-Shie!" after witnessing yet another amazing feat.
Off the ice, Oshie had become the most popular player on the team. His jersey outsold every other player that year by a margin of 3-to-1, a Vote For Oshie joke campaign nearly turned into real-life trouble for a Blues fan who actually voted for him in an O'Fallon election (and illegally photographed his ballot) and this site even postulated that if he were to make a certain high city official his prison bitch beneath the Arch that the local police would probably let him off with a warning and then buy him a beer.
His second year proved to be more of the same, as Oshie played more games, scored more goals and had more assists than his first year. His reputation for big hits continued to grow, especially after he attempted to dismantle the bigger Rick Nash brick by brick, game by game near the end of his rookie season.
Last year, his third in the NHL, was a bit rockier for The Teej, as Frosted Tips suffered through another ankle injury, albeit this time a freak broken bone suffered in a meaningless scrum, and missed 31 games. He played in his fewest games as a pro, tallied his fewest goals and his lowest point total to date. While he still leveled some big checks and scored some beautiful goals, the gild was off the lily, to steal a weird reference from my long-passed grandfather. The chants of O-Shie were non-existent and the exclamations that he was an untradable asset and would surely rise to superstardom were nowhere to be seen. Then, near the end of a season ending out of the playoff picture, Oshie committed a crime that only matters in pro sports: he missed a practice without excuse.
This summer, Oshie was given a one year "show us something" contract by the Blues, and rightfully so.
Despite all the promise and all of the flashes of hockey brilliance and all of the fan support, Oshie hasn't really done everything expected of him yet. fans continue to tout him as a first line or second line scorer and his numbers don't really support that at this point. He has yet to stay healthy for an entire season (although, in his defense, an emergency appendectomy and a freak broken ankle are hard to hold against him) and he has yet to crack the 20 goal barrier or the 50 point barrier.
This year Oshie needs to prove to himself and to the Blues that he is that 20-plus goal scorer and 60-plus point scorer. He needs to prove that, despite his hard-nosed style of play, he can compete in 80-plus games. If he can hit those milestones, Oshie will have become that second or first line winger. he will have proved that he can play on the powerplay and short handed. That he can be trusted in the final minutes of periods and games, either to help tie a game or to preserve a lead. That he's still a feared shootout scorer.
That he deserves the big payday he's looking to get.
If he can hit those milestones and finally become the total package that we've all been waiting for, Oshie will get the long-term, high-dollar contract and have a chance to become one of the storied Blues in the franchise's history. He might even one day find that there's a statue of him out front next to some of the other faces of this franchise.
If he comes up short again - misses too many games and therefore tallies too few goals and points - or fails to show a maturity expected of a fourth-year player, then contract negotiations next summer will be sticky. A third-liner, the Blues will say, you are a third liner. A great one, yes, but third liners don't get paid like scoring line guys do.
It's all in Oshie's hands this year to determine what kind of player he becomes. We're all waiting to see what he does.