DETROIT | Oskar Osala has been something of a victim of circumstance in his first professional season in North America, but that hasn’t stopped him from finding success with the Hershey Bears.
Osala, a fourth-round draft pick by the Washington Capitals in 2006 and one of the top forward prospects in their organization, has found it tough to earn time on the power play for the Bears, who boast one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the American Hockey League.
“On a team and organization with this kind of depth, I played pretty much every game all year and got some decent numbers without playing special teams, so I am very happy,” Osala said. “Obviously the team so far couldn’t have done any better, so I am very satisfied.”
The native of Vaasa, Finland, got off to a scorching start in his first season with the Bears. Osala had 16 goals in 26 games, then was recalled by the Caps and made his NHL debut Dec. 10 against Boston. His scoring pace slowed as the season progressed, but he did earn one more game with Washington - March 27 against Tampa Bay.
He finished the regular season with 23 goals and 37 points in 75 games, but only three of his goals came on the power play.
“I think everyone knows it is almost impossible to score 40 five-on-five goals. I wasn’t surprised,” Osala said. “Nobody can keep up that pace without playing on special teams. I just tried to ride with the hot hand.”
Added coach Bob Woods: “Like most young guys, he hit the wall a little bit and found out how grueling the AHL season is. … He went through a little bit of a lull, but I thought he finished strong and has been very good in the playoffs.”
Osala has regained his scoring touch during the postseason. After netting only seven goals in the final 49 games of the regular season, Osala has six markers in 17 postseason games entering Tuesday night’s Game 2 of the Calder Cup Finals at Manitoba.
Hershey won Game 1 in overtime, and Alexandre Giroux’s hat trick and winner in the extra session garnered the headlines. But Osala potted two goals of his own.
“I would still like to see him shoot more,” Woods said. “He’s got too good of a shot to not use it more often. Once he starts doing that, I think he’ll have even more success.”
Osala spent two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League to help adjust to the North American style of play before returning to Finland last season to play in his homeland’s top league. At 6-foot-4 and 217 pounds, Osala has the chance to be an impact power forward in the NHL. While the Bears have several forwards with NHL potential, Osala may have the highest upside of the bunch.
Washington’s 2006 draft haul could end up being pretty special. Osala is part of a group that includes Nicklas Backstrom, Simeon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth.
“I think it is great that he came back here from overseas and he’s got a taste of [North American] pro hockey and what it is all about,” Woods said. “He knows what he’s got to do, and he got a little taste up there in Washington. He’s got all the tools. He’s got to get the mindset that [Washington] is where he wants to be, and if he has a good summer and a good camp and he comes in with the conditioning he had last year, I think they will have to take a serious look at him.”