[Admin. note: With this file OFB proudly welcomes American University journalism student Andrew Tomlinson into the blogging fold. Andrew has been covering the Caps this season for AU's student paper The Eagle, for which he serves as multi-media editor, and his work has been acknowledged by both the Caps and ESPN. Look for notable and enjoyable contributions from him throughout 2009.]
Last night at Verizon Center brought the NHL debut of Oskar Osala, recently named the American Hockey League’s Player of the Month for November. Osala scored 16 goals in 26 games with Hershey prior to his callup, 3rd among all skaters in the ‘A’ and best among all rookies. Last night my new OFB colleagues and I wondered who was the last Caps’ prospect to be promoted, in-season, who brought something like the buzz that Oskar has this week. Folks around town are excited about what the 6 ’4, 217-lb. Finland native (The Caps’ fourth-round choice, 97th overall, in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft) has accomplished already during his rookie season of pro hockey in North America.
We asked a couple of Caps’ historians in the Verizon Center press box last night to identify a prospect from the past whose buzz reminded them of Osala’s, and frankly, it took them a while to identify anyone. Whom would you have chosen? Andrew Brunette? Pat Peake? Yogi Sjevkovsky?
Remember that elite talents like Ovechkin and Backstrom never saw apprentice duty on the farm. Mike Green, while an All Star talent today, enjoyed solid development with the Bears, but there was little in his stay there that suggested his dynamic game of today. Anyway, I took notes last night in the Phone Booth; here’s what I observed:
- With 14 shifts and just over 11 minutes on the ice Osala had a solid opportunity to get acclimated to the speed and pace of the NHL. He did not get to experience time on the power play or the penalty kill, but Head Coach Bruce Boudreau hardly seemed gunshy about sending him over the boards.
- Yes #48 looked nervous in the first period — the coach said as much in the postgame afterwards — and at times early on he seemed hesitant when the puck came to him, once or twice failing to drive to the net. Inside the Caps’ zone he maintained his lane while being modestly involved the defensive play.
- Osala came out in the second and looked like a completely different player. This, too, Coach Boudreau noted after the game. His puck pursuit was strong, and even got involved in the physical play. Towards the middle of the third we saw him slide down into the slot a couple times, where he plays best.
- Even with his more confident play in the second and third he still looked a little out of place — as he probably should have. He never seemed to fully gel with his line partners, Brooks Laich and Matt Bradley. Again, like you’d expect. But there wasn’t anything to suggest that he was in over his head.
- His puck movement and passing were touch and go through most of the game. With the puck he appeared somewhat hesitant and unsure, but I didn’t notice any glaring turnovers, either. It’s likely that his coach asked him to play a simple game, and by and large he did.
- One particular bright spot came in the third when Osala got the puck in behind the defenseman and laid a solid shot on Manny Fernandez. There was no hesitation in his shot and he seemed to put it where he wanted to.
- Overall Osala had a decent performance overall, I thought. A Bruins’ player never burned him, and none of his mistakes were costly. It’s still hard to tell whether or not he is able to play in the NHL yet. What he showed us towards the end of the night though is promising.