CAPTAIN SPEAKS

Jason Gregor
September 16 2011 12:50PM

A bead of sweat trickled down the side of Shawn Horcoff's face as he addressed the media for the first time in the 2011/2012 season. He had just wrapped up his medical, but I couldn't help but wonder if that bead of sweat also represented how he felt about his team.

Entering his second season as captain, Horcoff has to be feeling some pressure to ensure his team improves on their 30th place finish. He won't have to carry the leadership role alone this year with the addition of Ryan Smyth, Eric Belanger, Andy Sutton and Ben Eager, but as captain he is still the first guy to face the music and there will be more pressure and expectations this season.

 "The last couple years were the most trying of my pro career by far, from both as a team in the standings and the injuries that I've had," said Horcoff. "I hope they are behind me. I'm healthy, and we've had a long offseason. I'm looking forward to building off where I started last year.

"In terms of a team, a realistic goal for us has to be trying to make the playoffs. The only way to get these young kids ready, develop them for the next level and make them become better players is they have to play in big games. They have to play important games in March, sometimes February, because that's a whole other level when you are battling for the playoffs."

It is clear the Oilers want to be in the playoff hunt come February, and they better be, or the management and coaches will be on the hot seat. Having spoken with Steve Tambellini, Tom Renney and many others within the organization this week it is clear they have higher expectations and they recognize that it is time to start climbing towards respectability again.

Renney won't be as patient this year as he was last and Horcoff feels his coach should have more outlets to find success.

"I think one thing Tom is going to have this year is we are pretty deep up front, especially our top nine forwards. Even though we are young there is some offensive talent there. As players you'd like to find some chemistry, especially early in camp, and later in camp you want to start playing with the guys you are going to start the season with to try and build that chemistry."

No word yet on who is playing with who tomorrow. I spoke with Horcoff, Ryan Smyth, Gilbert Brule and Sam Gagner and none of them had yet to see who they were skating with. They will find out later this afternoon, but I could sense they were all excited to see who they'd start with.

Horcoff won't be playing with Eric Belanger, but he feels the free agent signing will make a huge impact on faceoffs.  

"It's going to nice to have him. He is proven to be a good guy in the faceoff. If you are going to be a good team you need at least two guys who can go. It is to hard for one  guy to carry that. They are hard minutes in the D zone, to go out there and battle and then come back to the bench, so you don't get the rest that your linemates do. On top of that you can't just count on two guys. All of our centremen need to improve on where we were last year."

Unlike last year, where the motto of camp and the season was to be patient, this year they will have some realistic expectations to compete. The long road to being competitive starts tomorrow on the ice, and Horcoff plans on making that point clear very early.

"Our guys need to know what it takes to win. We have to find that early, even in the preseason, and build on it. Losing can't be acceptable this season."

QUICK HITS

  • Ales Hemsky will skate tomorrow, but he won't take part in any contact drills for at least another week. His shoulder needs another week and they don't want to rush anything. He won't play in the first four preseason games this coming week.
     
  • Draft picks Samu Perhonen, Frans Tuohimaa, Travis Ewanyk (shoulder injury), Dillon Simpson (NCAA) and Oscar Klefbom (coming off injury, committed to his SEL contract) will not be in camp.
     
  • The Oilers will have six goalies in camp. Khabibulin, Dubnyk, Danis, LeNeveu, Bunz and Roy.
     
  • They have 18 D-men. Whitney, Gilbert, Smid, Barker, Peckham, Sutton, Petry, Chorney, Tuebert, Plante, Potter, Blain, Davidson, Fedun, Gernat, Marincin, Motin and Musil.
     
  • And 35 forwards: Horcoff, Smyth, Hemsky, Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi, Gagner, Omark, Belanger, Jones, Eager, Brule, Hordichuk, Nugent-Hopkins, Lander, Hartikainen, Tyrvainen, Petrell, Vande Velde, O'Marra, Abney, Arcobello, Cornet, Czerwonka, Hamilton, House, Keller, Kytnar, Martindale, Pelss, Pitlick, Rajala, Rieder, Tremblay and former Oiler Josh Green.
     
  • As of 1 p.m. the players didn't know which session they would be with tomorrow or their linemates. They will find out later this afternoon.

    ****Kirill Tulopov is also going to be at camp. There will be a few more guys on tryouts as well. ***
     
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One of Canada's most versatile sports personalities. Jason hosts The Jason Gregor Show, weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m., on TSN 1260, and he writes a column every Monday in the Edmonton Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JasonGregor
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#51 Jimmer
September 16 2011, 05:46PM
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@ Gregor

If Tambo doesn't add another legit "3-4" d-man before Christmas do you consider that a failure by Managment?

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#53 Quicksilver ballet
September 16 2011, 07:41PM
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OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F wrote:

@ QSB and the team came in 30th with Hall, see the problem with your logic?

Give him 2 yrs and he'll be a different player, he'll be setting the pace on this club. He can't do it with the few players around him that'll still be here 5 yrs from now. They need to pick up the pace on this out with the old, in with the newer breed.

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#54 Drew - Team no more tanking
September 16 2011, 09:50PM
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Jason Gregor wrote:

One game v. rookies isn't enough of a gauge to suggest he will be great at main camp. He is great against that quality of competition, but NHL is a much different league.

He will likely get a half game, maybe more and then go to junior. He is a few years away from being an NHLer....No need to rush based on one excellent game.

Truth is Bunz is right on schedule. If his NHL rookie season is 2013-14 backing up Devan Dubnyk, and Dubnyk gets a boatload of experience in the next two seasons then our goaltending issues should be shored up.

I want to meet the man who is an Oilers fan and thinks we're not on track with forwards.

The main concern is defense. However, I don't think the current D is as bad as they're made out to be, and with the prospects in the cupboards I expect the D to improve exponentially with every season.

From what I've heard of Griffin Reinhart he should be our first round target. Obviously being an Oil King is a huge bonus, but complimentary-wise to what we'll have in three years I think he would be a great fit.

Klefbom=good Marincin=good Teubert=good (role player defenseman) Gernat=better than expected Musil=good Dillon Simpson=you don't get invited to WJC training camp if you're not an exceptional player!

Plus, Whitney, Peckham, and just what if Cam Barker works out? He was a third overall pick, and he's still young.

And here's another thing that is going to help, that has already started happening; players will start wanting to play here as they see the potential beginning to unwrap. Better players every year. We'll be able to focus on developing 3 or 4 franchise defenseman, and sign depth UFA defensemen.

There's a million things that could happen to make this not work out; but I think a solid plan and foundation are in place.

I'm seriously considering buying an Eager jersey. We've needed 'that guy' for so long!!!

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#55 DSF
September 16 2011, 10:40PM
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A realistic goal should be to win 10 more games and overtake Columbus for 13th spot.

Problem is, Columbus addressed their team needs in the offseason by acquiring Carter and the Wiz.

Oh, well, Colorado doesn't look too hot unless Landeskog is the real deal.

Maybe 14th is doable.

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#56 FastOil
September 17 2011, 01:42PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

They are better off with him than without him (assuming nothing in return) based on him treading water with his previous year's performance.

The scary part is that his numbers, faceoff and offense, have been slipping pretty steadily for a few years now. The trend is not positive. He says he's healthy now, but we hear that almost every year.

It's only a matter of time before those skills dip below the needed level. The Oilers arent deep enough down the middle yet to survive a bad year from Horcoff. He needs to be good, at least until Gagner and RNH prove to be bonafide top 6 NHL centermen.*

*May not happen this year or ever, but we all hope

I have always been a Horc supporter, and think he is quality.

But you're right, and at some point you have to have players that play. If Horc isn't dealt soon, he's not worth moving.

He would be a great mentor, but I don't think he can play many more years, and especially at an acceptable level to teach much. We'll see.

Same for Whitney. He's great, but I don't like his chances of staying less injury prone as he approaches 30 after two reconstructive surgeries.

I would look to move him for a young top pairing D, who would have to be an NHL player, not a prospect. If he does stay healthy, it might be possible to a team trying to make the playoffs or with a shot at contending. A lot of teams need the playoff revenue and will deal the future for short term success. Not that he isn't really good, just that I would hedge my bets with Whitney's feet.

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