Before this season even started, Capitals forward T.J. Oshie was asked to make a prediction. Who was his top candidate to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as the rookie of the year? Oshie confidently said Vancouver winger Brock Boeser “had to be up there in the top three.”
“Whoever it was [that asked] was actually pretty surprised that I said it,” Oshie said.
He looks pretty smart now, when halfway through the season, Boeser has 22 goals, trailing just Alex Ovechkin, Nikita Kucherov and Anders Lee in the league. But Oshie might have seen Boeser’s quick ascension into NHL stardom coming, training with him in the summer and forming a bond through their shared alma mater, the University of North Dakota.
“He really took me under his wing this summer,” Boeser said. “He was a good role model to me. We actually grew pretty close. We started going golfing this summer. We have a pretty good relationship.”
Said Oshie: “He’s a great player. He’s one of those players that he just makes good, strong plays. He has a nice hard shot. He seems not to overthink with the puck; he kind of takes it as it goes and sees what’s open and makes a play. So, great young kid, good hard worker and obviously lots of talent.”
Oshie and Boeser are two of a growing group of Fighting Hawks alumni in the NHL, a contingent that includes Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, Minnesota’s Zach Parise and New York’s Brock Nelson. Boeser helped push North Dakota to its first title since 2000 last year, and then he turned pro, playing in nine games for the Canucks at the end of last season. He scored four goals, a preview of his prolific scoring this season, with more than a point per game so far.
“The thing that surprised me most was the jump in his skate, how quick he was from a standstill,” Oshie said. “And also his shot. He doesn’t have the biggest curve, but the way he’s able to release the puck is really quick, really hard. He shoots it very flat, which can kind of squeak into some more holes than when the puck is fluttering a little bit.
“You go to UND, it’s a really close family. I look at him, I see his success, and it makes you feel proud that you went to the same school where you can see a young guy come out and have the success that he’s having.”
Capitals Coach Barry Trotz compared Boeser’s release with Ovechkin’s. “I mean, it’s a bullet and it’s very accurate, and he’s been dangerous,” Trotz said. The last time the two teams played, Boeser scored three assists in Vancouver’s 6-2 rout of Washington, and he leads the league in five-on-five goals per 60 minutes. The Canucks again have among the fewest standings points of Western Conference teams, but Boeser offers the team a future in the post-Sedin twins era that’s fast approaching.
Oshie has looked on with pride, but he’ll also be especially motivated Tuesday night.
“One thing about North Dakota is we’re so competitive, every player that goes there, that when you play against each other, I feel like it elevates your play a little because you want to out-play the other guy,” Oshie said. “That’s the way it is in practice when you’re there. Obviously before and after, you’re the best of friends and you’re roommates, but even in practice at North Dakota, you go hard and everyone just kind of knows that’s just the way it is. You take nothing for granted. I think it feels that way when you get on the ice. A lot of North Dakota guys in the NHL this year, so you take some pride in that.”
Grubauer to start, Chiasson scratched
Trotz has continued tinkering with his lineup, scratching forward Alex Chiasson to get left wing Chandler Stephenson back on the fourth line after Stephenson sat against the Blues on Sunday.
“I really looked at the whole schedule, and the forwards have made it difficult,” Trotz said. “I said to Alex today, ‘I’m taking you out of this game, not because you are playing poorly, but all our forwards are going pretty well.’ I want to get certain guys in, a guy like Andre [Burakovsky] for instance, who missed a lot of time and I want to get him back engaged and productive in the way that he can be. You know, one game, and I want to get him a couple games where he’s getting some traction hopefully. I know we’ve talked and worked with him.
“It’s no different than my decision with [Stephenson]. Stevie last game, he had been playing well, but I thought we are home, and I can do certain things. So we did, and that’s what we’re doing. It’s good on the forwards. The forwards are making it very difficult to move players in and out.”
Philipp Grubauer will start against the Canucks, and it’s likely he’ll also be in net in one game of Washington’s upcoming home-and-home set with the Carolina Hurricanes before the bye week. Here’s how the Capitals’ lineup is expected to look against Vancouver:
Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Devante Smith-Pelly
Jakub Vrana-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson
Brett Connolly-Lars Eller-T.J. Oshie
Chandler Stephenson-Jay Beagle-Andre Burakovsky
Scratched: Alex Chiasson
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Christian Djoos-John Carlson
Brooks Orpik-Madison Bowey
Scratched: Taylor Chorney
Philipp Grubauer (starter)