TJ Oshie made his much anticipated return to the St. Louis Blues lineup on Jan. 18 against the LA Kings at ScotTrade Center. While Oshie did not find himself on the score sheet until the next game, his contributions may have been seen in how the other Blues players performed. His presence adds something extra and intangible to the team.
Fans already know about the energy Oshie brings to the team and the fan base. He is a young and energetic player whose personality can act as a spark plug, an intensifier, and a way to loosen up the team. He flies all over the ice creating havoc for opponents and speeding up the pace for his teammates. But his personality can also have a calming effect.
This can sometimes be referred to as the "Kevin Millar" effect. Kevin Millar was the Red Sox colorful first baseman when they made their epic 2004 comeback and won the World Series. His fun loving personality helped bring the team together and, at the same time, relax them from the job at hand. Oshie has the same effect with the Blues.
Besides his personality, he also brings another thing to the table that was seen in the past few games. The Blues have been using a few other younger players over the past few years, and they have not seen them all produce consistently. Oshie seems to have the ability to get these players going. The two who may be most affected are Patrik Berglund and Alex Pietrangelo.
Berglund has been an enigma to Blues fans and management alike. He had a great rookie season scoring 47 points (21 goals and 26 assists) in the 2008-09 season. But last year, his numbers took a hit. He only had 26 points (13 goals and 13 assists). The hope for this season was that he was just in a sophomore slump and he would bounce back. He has already passed those numbers with 28 points so far (11 goals and 17 assists), and there is still plenty of time left in the season.
Berglund started the season playing pretty well. He was not lighting up the scoreboard, but he was producing and he looked more comfortable than he did a year ago. But when Oshie went down with his broken ankle, so did Berglund's production. Oshie went out in the Nov. 10 game at Columbus. Through that game, Berglund had four goals, an assist, and a plus-one rating. That was 13 games into the season.
During the time Oshie was hurt, Berglund played in all 31 games that the Blues played and only registered four goals, 14 assists, and was a minus-six rating. Since Oshie's return, Berglund has been on a tear, scoring three goals and five assists in the four games Oshie has been back.
Berglund did not play on a line with Oshie early in the year. But the two have been together since Oshie's return, along with Vladimir Sobotka, who has turned into one of the teams best players. While Berglund's recent success and his 2008-09 success could be attributed to playing on a line with Oshie, that still does not explain his October production.
It is possible that Oshie has an effect similar to a coach on his young teammates. Even though he is not on a line with Berglund, Oshie's knowledge and skill have rubbed off on Berglund and helped him find his scoring touch.
"Rookie" defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is a similar case. Pietrangelo will never play on a line with Oshie, as he is not a forward. But the two share a lot of ice time and do have the ability to create a chemistry between them. Pietrangelo has been seen as an offensive weapon for the Blues and has stuck with the team this season. Pietrangelo has not been affected by Oshie's absence the way Berglund has. Pietrangelo has been pretty consistent on the score sheet all season.
What has changed, though, is his play. Early in the season, Pietrangelo was a very decisive player. He got the puck and would either take it into the offensive zone and towards the net, or he would take his shot, or he would quickly pass to a teammate with a better angle.
Many thought he looked better than Erik Johnson, who is considered the Blues top defenseman and one of their biggest assets. After seeing him in action with the Blues, some even said Pietrangelo looked like he could be better than Johnson one day.
But after Oshie went down, that slowly changed. The Pietrangelo that stole the powerplay job with his phenomenal play slowly vanished. Pietrangelo was still good, but he became indecisive and would end up making many turnovers. He would get the puck in the offensive zone and not find the shot quick enough or would try to force a pass to a teammate who was not open. It was as if he was a completely different player. He began to show up in the minus column often.
Who does Oshies presence help the most?
Like Berglund, though, Pietrangelo has looked like his old self since Oshie rejoined his mates. Pietrangelo had assists in each of the first three games that Oshie was back and has looked like the decisive player that could have won the Calder Trophy if he were eligible. He is not eligible as a rookie due to playing a few games with the Blues in the previous two seasons.
Many fans know that Oshie and Pietrangelo are good friends on the team. So saying that they have great chemistry on and off the ice is obvious. Even though Oshie had been around the team during his recovery, it is possible that the lack of his presence on the ice affected both Berglund and Pietrangelo.
One other player of note is David Perron. Perron has not played without Oshie, because he has been out of the lineup since before Oshie's injury due to a concussion. But Perron may still be affected by Oshie's presence. Perron has been a streaky player over the last few years. He gets hot and shows signs that he could one day score 30 or more goals in a season. Last season, Perron scored 20 goals and 27assists.
To start this season, he had five goals and two assists in 10 games, and he was scoring regularly. Many thought that this might be the year he turned into the Blues' undisputed best player. It may have been no coincidence that Perron played all of his games on a line with David Backes and none other than TJ Oshie. The three had a pretty good chemistry going, and Oshie seemed to be setting the other two up. It will be interesting to see if Perron can regain that success whenever he returns to the St. Louis lineup.
Other players may have also been affected by Oshie's absence, like Erik Johnson, who is having a disappointing season.
Who knows? Maybe Oshie can even help Brad Boyes find his scoring touch. But it seems like he has the greatest affect on Berglund and Pietrangelo. While he is not actually a coach, Oshie seems to produce a coach-like effect for the young players on this Blues team. He brings much more to the arena than just stats, and his loss was way more than a scorer in the lineup. He will have to help his buddies out and get this team going if they want to bounce back into the Western Conference playoff picture.