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Blues' Arnott sees Oilers as league's up-and-comers

by Ryan Dittrick / Edmonton Oilers
Jason Arnott, #7 of the Edmonton Oilers, wait on action against the Boston Bruins at the Fleet Center in Boston on Jan. 1, 1994. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

St. Louis, MO - So goes the saying, ‘Once an Oiler, always an Oiler.'

Etched on the walls and in the players' minds, the organization's iconic orange and blue colours become entrenched in a past Oiler's bloodline. Selected by Edmonton seventh overall in 1993, Jason Arnott is now a St. Louis Blue. He's also been a Dallas Star, a New Jersey Devil, Nashville Predator and Washington Capital, too, throughout his storied 18-year NHL career.

One stands out among the rest.

"[Edmonton is] where I started my career," Arnott said, looking back on his time as an Oiler, which spanned the 1993-94 season to 1998, when he and Bryan Muir were shipped to the Devils in exchange for Valeri Zelepukin and Bill Guerin.

"I had a blast there. The Oilers gave me every opportunity to play. I played with some great guys and great players, and I was fortunate enough to have played under some older, wiser guys, so I got to learn a lot from them, too."

As prosperous as his rookie season was, in which he tallied 33 goals and 68 points in 78 games, it was a situation not unlike the Oilers' current plan. The '93-94 edition was an inexperienced squad budding with skilled and highly-motivated individuals, but the group needed time to develop and come together as one.

"We experienced it all," Arnott laughed. "We got to see the good things, bad things, growing pains, ins and outs of the league and everything in between. When you put it all together and appreciate what the work was worth, it's pretty amazing to see how you can build a team. That's something I've learned throughout my career and I'll never let it go, because it was all positive and you can't replicate experiences like that."

Dividends did come, mind you. Following another, near point-per-game season in 1996-97, the (now) 37-year-old posted three goals and nine points in 12 post-season contests. While the 2011-12 Oilers are likely to miss the dance once again, Arnott believes the club is headed down the right path.

"They certainly have a lot of skill, no question about that," he said, noting Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle in particular. "Those guys are young superstars that are going to be unreal in this league. [The Oilers] need a little maturing, and sometimes that's tough when you have so many young guys on the team at the same time. Experience cures everything, and I'm sure they're going to continue to get better and ultimately become one of the league's more dangerous teams soon enough."

While Arnott did his part in boosting Edmonton's late-90s ensembles, the rugged pivot's encouraging words mean more when you consider his hands-on approach in guiding the Oilers' rebuild.

During the 2008-09 season when Ryan Jones was breaking into the league, playing 25 games with the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals and 46 in the NHL with the Predators, Arnott was in his third season in Nashville; he was the captain, too, and helped guide his on-the-cusp club on the ice, in the locker room and at home in a loving household.

With his spouse, Dina, and son, Chase, providing their blessing, Jones was welcomed into Arnott's home to begin a new and exciting big-league chapter.

"Jonesy is a great man," Arnott said with a laugh. "He came to stay with us at the beginning of (training) camp, and we had some great times. I got him into bow hunting, which I love, so we'd go out and hunt deer and things like that all the time. Just getting to know the kid was a great experience. I'd never had anyone come live with my and my family before, so it was something really neat.

"He got along great with Dina and Chase. We loved having him there; they'd always hound him and mess around, so it was pretty comical. Ryan's a great kid, an extremely hard worker and it's so good to see him doing so well this season. He's got a great career ahead of him."

Although Jones' career in Nashville was short, the 27-year-old's scare on the waiver wire helped land him a career in Edmonton; a successful one, too, as he's followed up an 18-goal, 25-point 2010-11 season with an equally as impressive campaign one year later.

Jones has become a crowd-pleaser, endearing his style and gamesmanship to the Oilers' home rink with an impenetrable work ethic and an even stronger desire to help his team accomplish anything it sets its mind to.

"Oh yeah," Arnott agreed, looking back at the potential he saw in No. 28's game. "His work ethic is unbelievable, on and off the ice. Wherever he lacks in skill, he makes up for with hard work and dedication. And that's what he's done, because it takes a strong commitment to play that greasy, rough-and-tumble game. It's going to take him a long way in this league, and he's certainly proving it now.

"You need guys like that to build a winning team," he added. "Ryan is only one man, but he's evidence of what the NHL's elite teams have. Hard working guys are worth so much, and he's one of the better ones out there. If you can build a team that has elite skill and that workmanlike desire, you're going to do good things."

Having seen the combination's evolution and having scored a Stanley Cup winning goal in overtime of Game 6 vs. Dallas in 2000, Arnott's career has witnessed it all. He's seen a rebuild, the meddling mid-season struggles and moments of glory that are now etched for all to see on the NHL's championship mug.

Just as 'Once an Oiler, Always an Oiler' is written in hearts, minds and in between the walls in the team's historic locker room Rexall Place, where he once called home.

-- Ryan Dittrick, - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick
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