Ryan Smyth #94 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the New York Islanders at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on October 17, 2013 in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Oilers 3-2.
(October 16, 2013 - Source: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)

Smyth thinks he’s turning things along with Oilers


Ryan Smyth and the Edmonton Oilers seem like they’ve turned thing around in the same three-game span.

Through 14 games, the 37-year-old only had four points. He now has just as many in the last three games, including a goal and two assists against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Nov. 19.

Smyth tried to explain his turnaround to the Edmonton Journal on Sunday.

“Maybe it’s more mind over matter, more mental this season. I’ve had the opportunity to play with [David] Perron and [Boyd] Gordon and they play to my strengths, which are on the wall. I’ve always been able to think the game pretty well, which helps, but I’m also healthy. I still want to be an asset,” Smyth said. “There is some creativity with our line and I’m helping out down low. I really hoped to play with Perron because he’s a mucker, a give and go type player, and we get a lot of puck-possession with Gordon.”

Then again, maybe it boils down to Perron. He’s scored six points (four goals, two assists) in that same three-game span while the Oilers generated a 14-3 goal differential during that streak.

Smyth is in a contract year, so he has plenty of motivation to continue that strong play. If that boils down to finding a way to stick on Perron’s line, then so be it.

Oilers go captain-less, name four alternates instead

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Edmonton’s made a fairly significant shift in its leadership group.

The big news is the Oilers won’t have a captain this season, as Andrew Ference will relinquish the “C” he’s worn for the last two years.

Ference will, however, remain part of the group and wear an “A” as part of a four-man alternate captain collective, one that also includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

The news of Ference being removed as captain doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The veteran d-man is a well-respected leader, but isn’t expected to be in the lineup every night this season.

The decision to go without a captain, though, is something of a surprise, especially given what new head coach Todd McLellan endured during his final season in San Jose.

The Sharks’ captaincy issue — stripping Joe Thornton, then going with four rotating alternates — was an ongoing problem, something that players, coaches and GM Doug Wilson had to repeatedly address until it blew up in spectacular fashion.

That said, the circumstances in Edmonton are quite different.

It’s believed the club’s intentionally keeping the captaincy vacant, on the assumption that Connor McDavid will evolve into a superstar and, subsequently, the club’s unquestioned leader.

Finally, McLellan noted that with Eberle currently sidelined, a fifth Oiler would be added to the leadership group — veteran forward Matt Hendricks, who will serve as a temporary alternate.

Brandon Sutter didn’t have the greatest preseason

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When Brandon Sutter was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, GM Jim Benning called the 26-year-old a “foundation piece for our group going forward.”

Sutter was quickly signed to a five-year extension worth almost $22 million, more evidence of how highly management thought of the player.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Benning was asked the following question:

“What does it say that you made the trade for Sutter, you called him a ‘foundation’ player, and it took him until the final night of the preseason to find a spot (with the Sedins) on the wing, which isn’t his natural position?”

Here was Benning’s response:

“Well, [head coach Willie Desjardins] wants to try that out, he thinks that’s going to be a good fit. At various times, the Sedins played with wingers with speed, with [Ryan Kesler], who could get in on the forecheck and had a good shot. Sutter brings some of those qualities, too.”

While all that may be true, Sutter was not signed to play the wing; he was brought in to play center, specifically on the second line. He finished the preseason with zero points in five games. And as mentioned, he’ll start the season on the wing, not his natural position.

Meanwhile, youngsters Bo Horvat, 20, and Jared McCann, 19, had outstanding camps and are expected to start the regular season (tonight in Calgary) centering the second and third lines, respectively.

Though Sutter did finish the preseason with 12 shots on goal, up there with the most on the Canucks, it’s fair to say he did not look like a “foundation” player.

“I haven’t seen him play his best,” Desjardins said last week. “I see a guy who’s big and a good skater and who understands the game real well, but just hasn’t got that involved.”

Now, we are only talking about the preseason here. New players often take time to get comfortable. Perhaps playing with the Sedins can provide Sutter with some confidence.

“I know he’ll be there and I totally believe that,” said Desjardins.

But it hasn’t been the best start, and if it wasn’t for the encouraging play of the youngsters, it would be a far bigger story in Vancouver.

Related: Canucks roll the dice on rookies, waive Vey and Corrado