This time last year, Barry Trotz was all but looking in the stands to find someone to play regularly on a top line with left wing Alex Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom.
Joel Ward got a chance, as did Troy Brouwer, Tom Wilson, Eric Fehr and Jay Beagle. The revolving door spun so often that at the end of last season Trotz and general manager Brian MacLellan decided the Caps needed to find a new top-line right wing in the offseason.
Goodbye, Troy Brouwer, goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley and a third-round pick in the 2016 NHL draft. (See my analysis of that July 2 trade here).
How’s that trade looking now?
In 51 games with the St. Louis Blues this season, Brouwer, 30, has nine goals (one on the power play) and 11 assists for 20 points while playing on a top line with center Paul Stastny and left wing Alexander Steen. Brouwer, who is a minus-1, is averaging 17: 18 a game -- 1:44 on the power play and 1:23 on the penalty kill.
Copley, 24, has appeared in 23 games for the AHL Chicago Wolves this season and is 10-11-1 with a 2.78 GAA and .905 save percentage.
Which brings us to Oshie.
In his first season playing with Ovechkin and Backstrom, the 29-year-old native of Everett, Wash., has 15 goals (six of them on the power play) and 13 assists for 28 points in 46 games. He is a plus-14 while averaging 19:12 in ice time -- 2:57 on the power play and 1:28 on the penalty kill.
“T.J. brings a high skill level and a high compete level, but what he’s done for that line is you worry about Alex and you worry about Backy all the time and (in the past) the third component has been a guy who goes to the net and gets pucks,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said.
“T.J. offers a mix of both -- a real high skill level and I know Hitch (St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock) taught a real responsible style of play, so he gives them a real good (offensive/defensive) balance.
“(Ovechkin and Backstrom) can do their thing but he can beat people one-on-one; he’s dangerous. You’ve got to worry about all three guys. If T.J. is coming down at you he’s not necessarily trying to get it over to Ovi or Nick, where I think in the past that’s been the case (with other Caps right wings). Their winger is going, ‘I’m on this line, I get it to those guys.’ It probably gives them a little bit of space and they’re so skilled that if you give them a little bit of space they’ll use it to their advantage. He’s been a real good complement. There’s a respect factor.”
At his current pace, Oshie would set a career high with 27 goals, while falling five points shy of the 55 points he produced in his seventh and final season in St. Louis. He would also finish with a career-best plus-25.
Oshie, who has one year and $4.5 million remaining on his contract (Brouwer in in the final year of a contract that pays him $3.66 million a year), said it was an adjustment to learn the unpredictable tendencies of Ovechkin, a left wing who often roams to the right side of the ice looking for breakouts.
“We’ve been growing, chemistry-wise,” Oshie said. “I’ve been learning where they are, what kind of cycle game they like to play. It’s still a work in progress, but I think for the most part we’re playing a really good 200-foot game now.
“We’re starting to talk a lot more on the ice and that makes everything a lot simpler and a lot easier to read when you know where a guy is going to be.”