Washington Capitals star T.J. Oshie has one thing, and one thing only, in common with the talented young teenagers who will be selected in the 2020 NHL draft. And that is, almost certainly like the vast majority of kids who will be taken this year, Oshie was not on hand for the actual event and had no experience of all the hoopla surrounding the annual talent allocation of the best league in the world.
But you get the sense that even if the doors had been thrown wide open for the 2005 draft, Oshie wouldn’t have made his way there anyway. Imagine a kid with first-round talent not even really knowing what the NHL draft was and sitting in front of the TV in his friend’s basement watching MTV instead of sitting by his phone or computer and monitoring each pick. That was T.J. Oshie 15 years ago.
But that doesn’t mean Oshie doesn’t have a draft story. And like the player himself, it’s a beauty.
It was July 30, 2005 and it was the day the Pittsburgh Penguins, for the second time in their history, drafted a player first overall who would save their franchise, with Sidney Crosby going first overall. It was the same day the Los Angeles Kings set the foundation for their Stanley Cup teams by taking Anze Kopitar 11th overall and the Montreal Canadiens were getting the goaltender of the future when they took Carey Price fifth overall. The draft that year was supposed to be held at the Corel Centre – previously known as the Palladium and later known as the Scotiabank Centre and Canadian Tire Centre - in suburban Ottawa. Because the 2004-05 season had been wiped out by a lockout and a new collective bargaining agreement hadn’t been reached until July, the NHL was in scramble mode and ended up holding the draft at the Westin Hotel in Ottawa with the top 20 prospects attending. Despite the fact he was coming off a season in which he scored 38 goals and 100 points in just 31 games for the Minnesota high school juggernaut from Warroad, (and would later establish himself as one of the top players in that draft), Oshie was not one of them.
Oshie actually doesn’t remember much at all about that day, aside from the fact that Blues called him to let him know they had taken him in the first round, 24th overall while he was at his friend’s house watching something mindless on MTV. “Everyone is going to think I’m crazy,” Oshie said on a conference call Monday afternoon. “I literally didn’t want to answer the phone. I was a pretty shy guy. So when I did, I’m trying to think of who called me, I don’t even remember. I think it was either John Davidson, or was it Larry Pleau?”
Well, it had to be Pleau, since he was the GM of the Blues then. Davidson didn’t join the organization until a year later. Anyway, it gets better. Pleau told Oshie how happy they were to have him in the organization and asked him who he was most excited about playing with on the Blues. Keep in mind, the Blues had some pretty decent NHL players in their lineup at that time, including the likes of Keith Tkachuk, Barrett Jackman and Doug Weight. There was only one problem. Oshie almost never watched NHL hockey, so he completely drew a blank. “I said, ‘Everyone. Just to play in the NHL would be amazing,’ ” Oshie recalled. “After the initial phone call, they told me I was going to do a media conference call so I ran to my buddy’s house and had to…I don’t know if it was Google or whatever…bring up the St. Louis Blues roster and coaches and try to figure out as much as I could, like cramming for a test.”
Oshie readily admits he knew he always wanted to play in the NHL, but had no idea what it meant to be drafted. He remembers going golfing with his buddies after the call and being interrupted a couple of times during the round, which frustrated him. Imagine that. “I was like, ‘I guess they draft you and they have your rights.’ That’s what everyone told me so I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever. St. Louis has my rights and I can’t wait to get to North Dakota’ ” Oshie said. “I was not a great student of the game, especially the draft process. I know a little more now, but I’m not your typical draft story.”
Indeed he’s not. But his story does tell us a little about the NHL draft and what it has become over the years. If there were a T.J. Oshie out there today, we probably would have heard of him when he was 15 or 16 years old. There is no way in today’s world he would have been a complete unknown on his draft day. And it also tells us how difficult it really is to pick out the stars in the NHL beyond the first couple of picks. Crosby was an absolute no-brainer and, as it turns out, Price was definitely a top-five pick. But when you look at the 230 players who were drafted that day, only five have scored more career goals than Oshie and four have more points. In fact, you could make the argument that if you did that draft over again, Oshie could have gone as high as fifth after Crosby, Price, Kopitar and Tuukka Rask. He’d definitely belong in a group that includes Kris Letang, Paul Stastny and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Need more context? Patric Hornqvist was the last player taken that year. (And we haven’t even included 2005 picks Keith Yandle and Jonathan Quick because they actually should have been drafted in 2004, but were passed over.)
It sort of puts the draft into context, doesn’t it? We put so much stock into where a player goes when the reality is that years later, it often doesn’t matter how low a player went, or sometimes that he was even selected at all. To be sure, it certainly won't in the long run affect the kids who won't get the opportunity to experience all the pomp and circumstance surrounding this year's draft. “When you see it on TV and the kids get drafted and get to go on stage, it’s probably a pretty cool feeling and accomplishment,” Oshie said, “but it’s just something that I never thought about. So it wasn’t that important for me, personally.”
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