FEATURE: Gravel eyes opportunity with Oilers in healthy state
Oilers free agent signee Kevin Gravel looks ahead to his opportunity with the organization, without his health holding him back
EDMONTON, AB - It was right around this time last year when defenceman Kevin Gravel was experiencing the symptoms of what would later be diagnosed as Crohn's disease - an inflammatory disease that causes fatigue, weight loss and pain.
"It hit me last summer," said Gravel by phone after inking a one-year deal with the Oilers Sunday. "Almost exactly a year ago today."
Gravel's condition caused him to lose significant weight and strength but didn't come with a long recovery period. The rearguard was hospitalized in Minneapolis, MN, and put on medication to subside the disease, feeling better by August. It did, however, put the 26-year-old behind the 8-ball for the beginning of the season.
"In August, I was feeling healthy but in terms of strength and skating-wise, I was nowhere where I needed to be," the Kingsford, MI, native said. "That set me back a good amount."
Gravel takes Remicade to mitigate the disease and goes to infusion centres every eight weeks for an IV drip.
"Ever since I've been on it, I haven't had any issues with it," he said.
But Gravel wasn't back to game shape until December, around the time when the defenceman was recalled by the Kings. Gravel ended up spending the rest of the campaign with the big club after scoring three goals and 11 points in 25 games with the Ontario Reign.
"It took me a little bit to get my legs and everything back," he said. "I lost a lot of weight. With that came a lot of strength and then just getting my health back took some time. I was able to get the call back to LA around Christmas time and I was there for the rest of the season. But the main thing was to get my health back and now everything's good."
After undergoing the tough medical situation, the American has a one-year contract with the Oilers, allowing for another opportunity to continue sinking his teeth into the National Hockey League. Gravel's appeared in 70 career NHL games, scoring one goal and nine assists.
"I'm excited to have a summer here where I can just focus on training and getting ready to come into Edmonton and not have to worry about my health issues and that," Gravel said. "We spoke and he (Chiarelli) showed there was an opportunity to come in. I'll have to earn everything I'm given, nothing is just going to be handed to me. That's how it should be."
The former St. Cloud State defenceman, who lives in Minneapolis during the offseason, praised the fact that he's coming to a passionate market like Edmonton.
"I'm really excited for the opportunity to come to a city like Edmonton," he added. "A big hockey market like Edmonton. Come into training camp here try to make this hockey team and do whatever I can to help."