November 17 2010 11:41AM
In June of 2003, Shawn Belle became a 1st round pick of the St. Louis Blues, taken 30th overall in one of the deepest drafts in NHL history. Drafted out of Tri-City, Belle seemingly had all the tools to play in the NHL. He was an unreal skater, had size, a decent shot and he was strong. Fast-forward seven years and five months later and Belle finds himself ready to play in only his 12th NHL game, in his hometown, against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Tonight could be the beginning of the end of the NHL dream for Belle, or it could be the first page in a novel of second chances, perserverance and maturity. Belle won't get a better opportunity to finally live up to his first-round selection seven years ago than he will with the Oilers starting tonight. Tom Renney and his coaching staff would love to watch the fairy-tale, homegrown-boy-finally-fulfills-his-dream, story unfold in front of their eyes.
The Oilers backend has been a mess all season.
Giveaways, turnovers, bad decisions, errant passes and missed assignments have plagued the blueliners so far this year, so it's not like Belle has to be great to remain an Oiler; He just needs to be steady.
I don't see Belle as the black knight gliding into Edmonton to save the day, but his early-season start in Oklahoma City might have some fans expecting too much from him.
Belle was having a career-year in the AHL, with two goals and 15 points in 17 games. He's played like an offensive stalwart so far, but the reality is, Belle has never come close to being this offensive before.
His previous five full seasons in the AHL read as follows:
GP G A PTS
2006-- 61 2 3 5
2007-- 57 4 14 18
2008-- 63 1 2 3
2009-- 60 3 10 13
2010-- 70 3 16 19
2011-- 17 2 13 15
Is Belle is having an out-of-body experience, or has he finally found his game, or is it just about getting more opportunities? Belle says the latter two is why he's off to such a great start. "I've never had the opportunity to play on the first unit PP as much as I did this year. The rest of my game... I just have a lot of confidence and I'm not rushing things. I'm not forcing things and I've calmed down with the puck"
History tells us that you shouldn't expect much offence from Belle. He has one assist in eleven NHL games, but Belle will be given second-unit PP time tonight, and if he adjust to the speed of the NHL he might be alright. Belle's physical tools haven't held him back to this point, it has been his cerebral game. Making wrong decisions, forcing passes and not being consistently physical has limited his NHL opportunities.
All you can ask for in life is an opportunity, and Belle couldn't have asked for a better one than the one he has in front of hit. Belle needs to play within himself and let his raw ability shine through; while fans need to realize that Belle should not be expected to be a saviour on the backend.
ANOTHER HOMETOWN HERO RETURNS
There was something in the air that night
The stars were bright, Fernando
They were shining there for you and me
For liberty, Fernando
Though we never thought that we could lose
There's no regret
If I had to do the same again
I would, my friend, Fernando
A few years ago the Oilers would fire up Fernando, by ABBA, when Fernando Pisani would score. Pisani was never a big fan of the song, and so Fernando didn't blare out of the speakers for too long. When you read the last four lines of the chorus, I wonder if Steve Tambellini has any regret about letting Pisani sign in Chicago?
Pisani wasn't going to be part of the future of the Oilers, but I'm sure Renney would love his penalty-killing skills right now. The "what if" game is always fun, just like listening to ABBA now and then is soothing!
I think it was best for Pisani and the Oilers to move on, but tonight will be special for Pisani. He's happy he got to face his former team twice in Chicago already, because he won't be as nervous tonight, but he admitted that returning to Rexall tonight will be meaningful for him and his family.
I think Renney might be more nervous than Pisani, because we all know how ex-Oilers, especially 3rd liners, have fared at Rexall this year. Marty Reasoner and Kyle Brodziak have had two-goal games, while Raffi Torres notched his first-ever NHL hat-trick earlier this month. Pisani already has one goal against the Oilers this year, and would love nothing more than to rip one past Nikolai Khabibulin tonight.
LINE UP CHANGES
Belle won't be the only roster change for Renney tonight. JF Jacques will make his season debut after a two-week conditioning stint in OKC, and he'll play with Ryan Jones and Colin Fraser. The rest of the lineup looks like this.
Renney has switched Penner to the right side, and Eberle to the left wing to try and find a line that can score. Eberle said the only difference will be the look from the wall, and that he'll be on his backhand a bit more. He's excited to play with Hemsky for the first time and said he just needs to find more shooting lanes and be prepared for a pass at any moment.
Whitney and Gilbert have been reunited, because it seems the only time Gilbert plays within himself is with Whitney. It's a contrast to what the Hawks are doing with their best two D-men, as Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook won't play together again tonight.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers have been unpredictable most of the season, and while common sense would suggest they can't win three straight against the Hawks, I'll pull a Geroge Constanza and go against my original thought. Oilers win 4-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers will take a penalty in the first ten minutes, and the Hawks 3rd rated PP will have Renney chewing his gum faster than some Oiler fans have pushed the panic button. Khabibulin will make two big saves, the crowd will get in the game and the Oilers will kill off an early penalty and build some momentum. Of course, on the next PP the Hawks will score in the first 30 seconds, but that first kill will give the Oilers a much-needed early boost.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS PREDICTION: Because he couldn't sleep during his usual nap time, Patrick Kane spent the afternoon taking cab rides back and forth from WEM to the Hotel Macdonald. He regaled each cabbie with epic tales of his Stanley Cup summer celebrations and tipped each of them $100.
Unfortunately for Kane, he had "flying legs" after taking four round trips to and from WEM and is a non-factor in the game. By the end of the game there are various photos of Kane and four of the lucky cabbies on the Internet. These cabbies get the "fourth star" award and reap the benefits all weekend from happy Oiler fans eager to tip them for tiring out "20 cent."