The Edmonton Oilers opened up their pre-season schedule on two fronts on Tuesday night and the organization got a look at multiple players in both Saskatoon and Edmonton, but two of the most important players to the Oilers’ success this season - Ryan Whitney
and Ales Hemsky
- remained out of the line-up...for now.
Whitney is head and shoulders the Oilers best defenceman and his return to the roster at 100% health is paramount to the team’s hopes this year. After an exceptional start to last season which saw him register a stellar 27 points and go +12 in 35 games, the Oilers fate was pretty much sealed when the puck-moving defender suffered a season-ending right ankle injury December 28th against the Buffalo Sabres.
A near elder statesman with the Oilers despite only being 28 years-old, Whitney fundamentally understands that the puck does the work, which is key to a successful transition game.
Tom Gilbert is a legitimate top-four NHL defenceman but miscast as a top-two guy. Ryan Whitney
during his tenure as an Oiler has proven he can handle top-two minutes and excel because he plays an economically intelligent game.
Whitney has also shown he can dramatically improve the fortunes of a defence partner; case in point the aforementioned Gilbert, who floundered with just 12 points in 66 games in 2009-10 prior to the Oilers acquiring Whitney for Lubomir Visnovsky then finished up with 19 points in his final 16 games when he has was paired with the fifth overall pick from the 2002 NHL draft.
The indication from Whitney is that he is hoping to play two of the Oilers' final three pre-season games.
You can bet that the Oilers are monitoring Whitney’s progress closely, because if he isn’t at 100% or suffers a setback, my guess is that the organization may need to look to bolster their defence via a trade or picking up a free agent puck-mover.'CUP RUNNETH OVER'
While most experts would agree that the Oilers lack depth on the blue-line at the NHL level; several Western Conference General Managers have indicated to me over the last couple of months that Edmonton’s “cup runneth over” with burgeoning offensive prospects.
One un-named GM told me the Oilers have five of their top-seven forwards in place for years to come (if you include the third-line centre position) with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
and Anton Lander
down the middle and Taylor Hall
, Jordan Eberle
and Magnus Paajarvi
on the wings; and that does not include centre Sam Gagner
, who had already played four NHL seasons at centre before his 22nd birthday.
All of which makes Ales Hemsky
a very interesting player to watch this season.
Coming off of a season-ending shoulder injury Hemsky too will be watched closely by the Oilers brass.
An elite level five-on-five winger who plays with courage, Hemsky has twice registered 70 + points in a season, but he needs to stay healthy after only playing 69 games in the last two seasons.
Hemsky, like Whitney, is 28 years-old and he should be entering the prime of his career. A career Oiler, Ales is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season and unquestionably would get a lot of interest on July 1st if he tested the free agent waters.
The general consensus amongst NHL agents is that Hemsky is probably worth 5.0 to 5.5M per season with term (three years-plus) on the open market.
After talking to the talented Czech at training camp I get the sense that he is quite optimistic about the Oilers fortunes in the future and that he also recognizes he has lived through the tough times during the rebuild.
At this time be rest assured the lines of communication are open to discussion, but serious conversation on a contract extension has yet to really begin.
Despite Hemsky’s injury woes the last couple of years, the minimum the Oilers would likely get for the right winger if they went the trade route would be a “Dustin Penner-like return”, according to one NHL Senior Executive.
That return has already netted the Oilers two promising defensive prospects in Teubert and Oscar Klefbom
, with a pick in the 2012 draft still to come. Bob Stauffer is the Color Analyst for the Oilers Radio Network and Host of “Oilers Now”, Mondays thru Friday from Noon ‘til 2:00 on 630 CHED