The best stuff at Rexall Place today wasn’t to be had out on the ice where the Edmonton Oilers were practising. Noooooo. Time was better spent huddling with injured Oilers forward Ales Hemsky.
Hemsky, out for the balance of the season after shoulder surgery, spent 10 minutes shooting the breeze with Rob Tychkowski of The Sun, Joanne Ireland of The Journal and yours truly today.
We touched on Hemsky’s left shoulder, his take on the possibility of Jaromir Jagr joining the Oilers and about interest in unheralded Roman Cervenka, a teammate of Jagr’s on the Czech Olympic team and a player I mentioned here last week.
Hemsky’s been rehabbing his shoulder since having surgery in December. While he expects to be ready for next season, and hopes to resume skating this spring, it’s a long, slow process.
"The rehab is going all right. My shoulder is getting better and better and better, so I’m on the right track. We’re happy with the bands, the physio and the normal stuff you should do. We’re working with a conditioning trainer every day, so I’m just right on track."
On sitting out while the team languishes in 30th place, Hemsky admits to not being a great spectator.
"It’s a tough year for everybody. For me, it’s tough because I played just 22 games, I think. I missed the Olympics, too, and the season hasn’t gone right. Everything together, it’s frustrating, but everything bad, it’s good for something. You’ve got to take the positive. I’ve got to get ready for next year. That’s my goal."
Yes, next year. How’s that working for you?
"I don’t really want to talk about it. I don’t know what will happen here. That’s management’s business. I’m not even playing right now. My goal is just to get ready for next season. If I’ll be here, I’ll be here. If not, I will not. I don’t know what the team will do with the players here.
"I have a lot of great friends here. I feel like home here, so I don’t have a problem with anything with the city. I’ve met so many great people here, so I feel good. It’s frustrating for everybody when the hockey and everything doesn’t go well."
The Oilers have been eye-balling Jagr from afar since he left the NHL to play in the KHL. There’s been talk about the Oilers trying to find a way to land the 38-year-old future Hall-of-Famer next season.
That talk has heated up somewhat with Jagr’s performance for the Czech team in Vancouver, where the Oilers had more than a few sets of eyes tracking his every move.
On Jagr returning to North America, Hemsky said: "I hope he will because he can still play. He’s still a great hockey player. When I talked to him before he was interested in playing.
"I don’t know how he feels now after the tournament. I think after things settle down a bit he will want to come back for one or two years. He can still play on the small rink. He’s strong."
With the Oilers entering rebuild mode and having salary cap concerns, we asked Hemsky if he sees Jagr as a fit in Edmonton.
"He’s not like he was, but he can still be a difference-maker. He’s a superstar. Just having him on the team is good for everybody. That’s why I think it would be good. He’s a guy who can do 70 points. We don’t have guys who can do 70 points."
Why Edmonton? Hemsky and Jagr are friends and speak frequently. Jagr also played for Oilers associate coach Tom Renney in New York and for assistant coach Wayne Fleming in Omsk. So?
"I think he’ll want to play someplace where he will be happy, where he will know the coach, and maybe where there are a lot of young guys. He doesn’t have to have the role he used to have, but he has to feel comfortable. I think he would (consider playing with the Oilers), but that’s just speculation."
What about Roman?
Heading into the Olympics, I mentioned Cervenka. Here’s what I wrote on Feb. 15.
"While the Oilers will have lots of eyes an ears at the Olympics, some of them on Jaromir Jagr, there’s another player who they’ll be gawking at, as will other NHL teams. Keep an eye on Czech Republic forward Roman Cervenka, an undrafted 24-year-old who might turn out to be a player for somebody.
"Cervenka never got a sniff during his draft year because he was ridiculously small at five-foot-seven and 127 pounds. That’s not a mis-print. He was a-buck-27 as a teenager.
"At five-foot-11 and 187 pounds now, Cervenka’s looking like a late-bloomer. In 48 games with Slavia Praha this season, Cervenka has scored 30-41-71 to lead the team in scoring."
Cervenka played on a line with Jagr in Vancouver, but he wasn’t overly impressive, managing two assists in five games. Still, Hemsky says he’s a player.
"I played with him on the national team. He didn’t have the strongest tournament like he’d probably want, but I still think he’s a good player. He’s a very talented guy. He’s pretty strong kid, too, and pretty smart.
"I don’t think you can judge people over 10 days or nine days. I just think he’s a good player."
Hemsky figures Cervenka is NHL ready. Outside getting one of the top three picks in the Entry Draft this June, which the Oilers will, that’s something teams usually have to wait years for when drafting teenagers.
"He’s already a player," Hemsky said. "That’s what you’ve got. You don’t have to develop. You get a guy who has already played somewhere and has the experience. He’s already mature, you know.
"I think he’s very smart. He’s a really smart, patient guy. He can play both ways. He’s a strong, hard-working guy, actually. He works hard off the ice and on the ice. He’s a really good kid.
"He can score goals. He’s good on face-offs. Who knows? It’s different hockey, too, here. That’s the risk you’re taking. I think sometimes it’s better to take a guy who is ready, who has already played somewhere."
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.