- Photo by Andy Devln | Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club
If you look at Ales Hemsky's stat line from Tuesday's game against Montreal, a couple things stand out. Hard to miss his goal. Harder to miss his blocked shots. He had only two, which was just a small sample of the 30 that Edmonton blocked against the Canadiens. The two that happened in front -- and especially the first one -- tells me which Hemsky has shown up in Edmonton. He looks the same, his numbers the same but his game is different. In fact, I think the person has changed as well.
I've always believed that Ales has top 10 talent. I've watched him from the start with Edmonton and always thought that his talent was incredible. I may be biased because I've seen him for so long but his skill level and the things he can do with the puck can be magical. There are very few players in the NHL who can accomplish what Hemsky can. After writing all that, I know his numbers don't match my lofty description. Injuries have been a problem. One shoulder then two shoulders have ended seasons prematurely but let's move on and deal with the present and not the past.
In fact, I thought Hemsky was part of the past. It seemed like it was the only way it was going to end between the team that drafted him 13th overall in 2000 and the player. Time for a change. No one was arguing that it might be the best way to go for everyone involved. Hey we had some good times together, appreciate what you've done for us and what we've done for you but if there's a match with one of the other 29 teams, let's do it. That was the feeling at the end of the season in April and May then into June. By the time the calendar rolled into July and August, Hemsky wasn't going anywhere. The first few days of September the winger and GM Craig MacTavish both spoke and did so together. It was the best possible optic to clear it all up. What they said was also important. Case closed. Ales Hemsky wasn't going anywhere.
That takes me back to Tuesday night and Ales was being Ales. Stickhandling, skating, scoring and being the player he can be. However I just couldn't get the replays of his first blocked shot out of my mind and the bench shots of him in some serious pain. He took an Andrei Markov shot on the instep of his left foot. Ouch. The replays of him on the bench showed the amount of pain he was in. It wasn't an accidental block, instead done absolutely on purpose. I've always felt Hemsky never got his just rewards for toughness. While I wondered if he would come back, he did and sprawled out to block another one. Any Oiler player, fan or member of management had to be impressed with his willingness to sacrifice for the good of the team.
Hemsky has also been criticized for his relationship with the media. He wasn't always there when the media needed him or wanted him. The general consensus being that a veteran player should be around as often in a loss as a win. I never felt that was an issue as the Oilers have always had enough players around to talk win or lose. This season there can be no complaints about post-game availability. He's in the room, sometimes just waiting at his stall, ready if needed. I think the best person to judge Hemsky is the new coach. Good, bad or indifferent he's heard it all yet Dallas Eakins has publicly applauded this year's version of Ales Hemsky and the way things are going he shouldn't be the only one.
Gene Principe is the host of Oilers broadcasts on Sportsnet West and Sportsnet Oilers.