The Edmonton Oilers aren’t the only team that has been mired at the bottom of the league’s ranks for long enough to stock up on high-end draft picks for a few years. The Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and Chicago Blackhawks can thank some pitiful stretches of hockey for the fresh faces of their drastically improved franchises.
That being said, the Penguins, Capitals and Blackhawks took some big steps in the right direction once they landed some top prospects. It seemed to happen once they added at least two stars-to-be. The Penguins took off only after Evgeni Malkin joined Sidney Crosby & Co. a year after Crosby entered the league. The Capitals started to take off once they hired Bruce Boudreau, but it didn’t hurt that Nicklas Backstrom came along to ride shotgun with Alex Ovechkin. Jonathan Toews was drafted in 2006 but the Blackhawks waited until they nabbed Patrick Kane at No. 1 in ’07 before unleashing their two new game-changers onto the hockey world.
While Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins might not have the same ceilings as those six other star players, they’re both the top overall picks of their respective NHL drafts. Oilers fans have been reasonably patient watching their prospect pool grow, but sooner or later, there’s going to be a “something’s got to give” point.
A healthy Hemsky could help the Oilers turn the corner
If that point happens to be the 2011-12 season, the Oilers are going to need results from more than just their big name youngsters. One of their few legitimate prime players is playmaker Ales Hemsky, a fantastic passing winger who cannot seem to stay on the ice often enough for the hockey world to truly gauge his talents.
In a way, Hemsky’s next season is his “something’s got to give” moment. He hasn’t even played in half of the Oilers games during the last two seasons (he played in 47 games in 10-11 and just 22 in 09-10) as injury after injury made him Edmonton’s answer to Marian Gaborik. Hemsky is a scoring threat in the rare moments he suits up, though, scoring almost a point per game (42 in 47 games in 10-11; 22 in 22 in 09-10) since he broke through with a 77-point campaign in 2005-06.
This is a pivotal campaign for two reasons: 1) he underwent surgery on both of his shoulders and 2) his $4.1 million cap hit will expire after the 2011-12 season. A team – perhaps even the Oilers – might be more willing to roll the dice with Hemsky’s checkered injury-related past if he can play close to 80 games and approach 80 points in the process.
To the folks around the league who think Hemsky is injury-prone, all he can do is shrug those refurbished shoulders. He’s played only 69 of 164 games the last two seasons but doesn’t feel like his body is breaking down.
“I’m not worrying about it. It’s only the last two seasons, but before that I don’t think I’ve had many injuries,” said Hemsky, who expects to be ready for the Oilers training camp in mid-September.
Hemsky was back in the Czech Republic in June but will stay here for July to see the medical people and work on his rehabilitation, then head home to skate with the club team in Pardubice for awhile.
“I know to have surgery seems bad, but when you fix the shoulders, they should be OK, now. You get hit, you get a small tear in the shoulder and it’s tearing and tearing and finally it’s torn all the way. For two months you don’t feel it, then you get to where you can’t even sleep. Only thing you can do is go for surgery. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the motion I had before. They’ve tied it up pretty tightly for a hockey player, but it’s good enough for sports. I can play tennis, golf.”
If the Oilers brass (and Hemsky’s agent) get their way, Hemsky won’t have many opportunities to play golf next April.