Martin Gernat is somewhat of the older guy in the Oilers locker room in Penticton, B.C. this weekend.
Gernat, 21, will be making his third appearance in this Young Stars Tournament, and that makes him sort of a veteran presence for the younger players. Not to mention, Gernat spent almost all of this past season in the American Hockey League.
“This is my third… tournament so I have to show my best game and show that I am an older guy, the leader of the team and I play hard,” Gernat said.
Never quite fully recovered from a shoulder injury from the 2012-13 season, Gernat went about his business this off-season trying to put that behind him. After making that his first priority, Gernat enters this tournament fit for action.
|Photo by Steven Christy/OKC Barons |
“My first thing was my shoulder. After surgery the year before, I wanted to do good work on my upper body and get stronger there because I knew that was the thing that was weak during the season. That was the main thing for me.
“Finally, it’s fully healthy and getting stronger.”
Despite a weak shoulder, Gernat finished his 57-game regular season with the Oklahoma City Barons, scoring 21 points (4-17-21). After Christmas was when he hit his stride development-wise. Playing more minutes was also key to that positive upswing.
“I played a lot and had good ice time. I have more confidence right now and I will fight for the NHL team.”
Gernat has a great opportunity to make an impression on Friday night, as he couldn’t be paired with a much better partner in the Oilers opening game of the tournament. Gernat will skate with the seventh-overall pick in 2013, Darnell Nurse.
“He’s a great guy. The chemistry will hopefully come during the game because we have practiced just once. He played in Oklahoma for a bit. I saw him, he’s a really good player and I’m glad to play with him.”
Oklahoma City Barons Head Coach Todd Nelson is familiar with both defencemen, having coached them last season. While Gernat spent nearly the entire season with Nelson, Nurse played four regular season games and three playoff games for the Barons at the end of the year.
“Both guys are tall and rangy,” Nelson said. “They can cover a lot of ice. Gernat sees the ice extremely well. He does a lot of good things in every area of his game. That should be a very good pair. Both guys have matured. Gernat, I’m not sure if he has gained weight or not but, he’s grown into be a man. His neck is a little thicker and it’s the same thing with Darnell. From the times that I’ve seen them they’re just maturing as people.”
Nelson guessed right about the physical side. Gernat says he’s gained roughly eight pounds of muscle, while Nurse has bulked up 10-15 pounds since last season.
Playing with Nurse will give Gernat an opportunity to play with one of the best defensive prospects in this tournament. The two will get plenty of playing time and will also see time on the power play. It’s a chance to audition for the Oilers brass.
The former fifth-round pick (2011) is now older, stronger and more confident. He heads into the tournament with a chance to show it before the Oilers begin main camp next week.