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Hemsky Returns to Edmonton in Top Six Role

by Chris Wescott & Marc Ciampa / Edmonton Oilers
Ales Hemsky returned to practice today, with the rest of the Edmonton Oilers, for the first time since the Olympic break began. Hemsky represented the Czech Republic in Sochi, Russia and took upon an offensive role, scoring three goals and an assist in five games.

“I played a little different role there than I did here and it was lots of fun,” Hemsky said. “I played with a lot of good players and it’s always fun.”

The winger took the ice for practice in a different role as well. Hemsky has been promoted to the Oilers’ second line with centre Sam Gagner and right winger Jordan Eberle. Hemsky flipped from the right side to the left as well.

Photo by Getty Images.

“I came back here and I don’t know what will happen in the next week, but now I’m with Gags and Ebs and I’ll just enjoy my moment.”

The line changes push David Perron to the right wing on the third line with Matt Hendricks and Boyd Gordon.

Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins addressed the move for Hemsky and denied that the lineup change had anything to do with ‘showcasing’ the forward, as the NHL’s trade deadline of March 5, approaches.

“No,” Eakins said. “It’s been the constant battle this year with the lines whether to put Perron… because Perron is a top six guy for me, Hemmer is a top six guy and we’ve got other guys also that we could… put on Gordon’s line there. The more we talked about it over the break, we wanted to get Perron back there. I think he’s more of a better fit with those guys than Hemmer.”

With Perron on the third line, Hemsky moves up to add speed and defensive reliability to his new line.

“The one thing we haven’t done with Hemmer this year is put him over on that left side,” Eakins explained. “He says he’s comfortable over there, he can play anywhere that we want him to. That’s been the great thing about Ales this year, he’s just done what we’ve asked of him. He’s got no problem going over there and we’ll see how it goes. It’s like always, you put your lines together and man, you get three minutes into the game and you’re already shaking them. That’s where we’ll start and we’ll see how it goes.

Hemsky has 24 points 52 games this season. Photo by Getty Images.

“What we’re looking from him is to use his speed. He’s been good for us with his habits defensively this year. We want him to continue that with Gags and Eberle but listen, it brings a little bit more speed to the line and hopefully Ales can pick up right from what he did from his last couple games of the Olympics. I didn’t see him play, but I’ve heard that he played very well.”

Hemsky says he’s comfortable with the change.

“I can play left, right, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “They told me to play left, so I’ll play left. I’m just here to play hockey and do whatever they tell me.”

Even with Eakins’ saying the lineup move was not provoked by the impending trade deadline, there will still be rumours swirling about the internet and media in the coming week or so. Hemsky, an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, hasn’t thought about it.

“Every year they talk about trades,” the forward said. “It’s something I can’t control. To be honest, I came back two days ago and I didn’t even think about it. Like I said, I’ll just play to the deadline and see what happens and just enjoy my moment.”

Hemsky’s coach doesn’t believe trade talk or rumours should affect him or anyone else on the roster, as multiple players may hear their names come up in the coming days.

“I don’t even know if it’s possible to block it out… If you’re a pro, you can play and have chatter around you,” Eakins said. “It’s a part of the game. There’s so much going on now like the rumours, the social media and all of that stuff. Everything travels so quickly that I’m not even sure you can block it out, but you certainly have to just deal with it. It’s just part of the game now and I think some guys have the tools and are better equipped to know how to do it and others don’t.

“But listen, there aren’t many guys in our room that are untouchable, coming up to this time. I think for a good part of our team, they’re all involved in this. It will be interesting how it goes, but I really believe through my experience of not only coaching but playing, when the puck drops, the puck drops. Rarely is a guy sitting on the bench going, oh man I might get traded tomorrow. They just play.”

Hemsky, 30, has 24 points (7-17-24) in 52 games this season.

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