Since 2005, the faithful have repeated the mantra almost to the point of delirium: The Blues will rebuild through the youth. We must trust in the youth. The youth will build the foundation for a strong franchise. Youth or die.
And to this point, there have been few fans that have not bought into the mantra and the underlying belief that building a strong foundation through the draft and development of young players is the best way to build a dynasty. But a total belief in the youth isn't completely realistic. For one, unless a couple of the players become true NHL stars, the team could wind up full of good, but not great, players. Another worry is that if too much responsibility is handed to the 25-and-under crowd, growing pains will continue to shock the entire club as they learn from their mistakes.
The management has said several times that at some point assets acquired in the draft will have to be traded to add someone to the team to fill a role not developed on the farm. The first such move was made this summer when Ian Schultz and one of the golden boys of the prospect system, Lars Eller, to Montreal for new starting goalie Jaroslav Halak. Clearly, management felt there was a hole in the lineup that couldn't be addressed at this point by the rebuilding.
For now, however, that is the only move they are ready to make. For the foreseeable future the mantra continues to be official policy: We must trust in the youth. As we broke down in a story earlier this summer, management is likely looking squarely at eight players to improve on last year's efforts. Of those eight, five would be considered to be part of the Blues youth: Erik Johnson, David Backes, Patrik Berglund, David Perron and T.J. Oshie.
Oshie presents an intriguing case. Shockingly drafted 24th overall in 2005, Oshie quickly won over fans who had rightfully never heard of him before while still playing at the University of North Dakota. His knack for big goals and bigger hits and an obvious desire for the puck came through on the YouTube clips that formed the backbone of the early Oshie Fanclub in St. Louis. By the time he finally pulled on the Bluenote and took to NHL ice, everyone knew who Oshie was and the potential that he embodied.
He did not disappoint in his rookie season. While he played in only 57 games, he scored 14 goals, 39 points and finished with a plus-16 rating. But the non-statistical accomplishments did more for his reputation than anything the back of his hockey card could. His first goal, scored at home in front of a standing crowd won't even count towards his NHL totals; a dazzling game-winning shootout goal against Blackhawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin. His total demolition of the bigger Rick Nash not once but twice within a matter of days. His enthusiasm leapt off the ice and into the stands where the crowds serenaded him with chants of "O-Shie, O-Shie, O-Shie."
Had any other Blues second-tier scorer, first-year player ever been embraced as quickly and completely as Oshie was in 2008-09?
Last year was an interesting one for Oshie. Once again kept from playing in all 82 games by injuries likely caused by his physical play (he missed four games after an emergency appendectomy early in the year and sat out the last two with a shoulder injury), he did improve to 76 contests. He scored four more goals than his rookie year (18) and five more assists (30) to increase to 48 points on the season, but tallied a minus-1 on the year. while the increase in points is promising, so much more is expected of Oshie in St. Louis. The question is whether he can deliver on those expectations or if the bar is simply set too high.
In looking over the roster and the roadmap to the franchise's future it's clear that management would love to see Oshie develop into at least a second-line scorer for the team. His ability to play on the powerplay and on the penalty kill are valuable, but until he puts up second-line scoring tallies, he's probably better suited to being an incredibly effective and dangerous third-line player. As Joe Barker points out in his excellent article, Oshie, Jay McClement and Alexander Steen would be a third line that would be the envy of the league for years to come.
And that wouldn't be a knock on Oshie or an indication that his career is a disappointment. A hard-hitting, shutdown checker who can lock down opponents' top scorers and who can consistently score around 20 goals, around 50 points and play in last minute situations, on the powerplay and penalty kill would be a hell of a resume for any player. But Oshie and Blues management clearly hope for more. The pressure is on this year for him to prove he can deliver it.
If Oshie can again improve on his scoring totals and hit the mid-twenties in goals and close in on 60 points he will have proven he can play on the second line. If he can go even higher, he may just stake his claim to first line duties. In his third full season in the NHL Oshie will be feeling the pressure to be better; to return to the days of the crowd chanting his name, which never really happened last year. It seems that maybe the crowd expects more out of him these days. Hopefully he does too.