GDB 15.0: HOME GROWN BOYS RETURN

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.

REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS

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.

Hall/Gagner/Penner
Eberle/Horcoff/Hemsky
Paajarvi/Cogliano/Brule

Whitney/Gilbert
Vandermeer/Peckham
Foster/Belle

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.

PREDICTIONS

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." 

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Here’s hoping Belle can scratch out a nice career as a 5/6 dman… which hopefully leads the team to put one of Strudwick/Vandemeer out to pasture.

  • D-Man

    I’m very interested to see how Eberle plays with Hemsky?

    Game day prediction: Oilers beat the hawks again, this time 5-3, Eberle 2G 1A, Penner 1G 1A Hemsky 3A.

    Obvious prediction: Hemsky dishes Eberle sweet passes all night and Eberle pops a beauty or two.

    Not so obvious: Renney was digging in the trash and found Mac t’s book: “keys to line juggling” written by McBlender, and is now on chapter 7…

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Game Day prediction: Kane 3 point night
    Obvious Game Day Prediction: Another soft game from Gilbert
    Not so Obvious Game Day Prediction: Any thing better that a 2 goal loss is a victory

  • If I were Stortini, there’s nothing better for my reputation with Renney than watching JFJ torch what was becoming a pretty decent 4th line. I bet he’ll be up in the pressbox spitting out popcorn over the rail in laughter and rubbing his hands in glee every time JFJ touches the puck.

    • Horcsky

      JFJ doesn’t touch the puck. He annhilates it with physical play. He better be hitting like he was at the start of the season, cuz he has NO idea what to do with the puck… or without it.

    • D-Man

      And Stortini is such a skilled puck handler?? Really?? Assuming a) he remembers that he has to hit everything that moves to be effective in this league and b) has his back hold up for more than 50 games this year, JFJ is a better player than Stortini…

      I know, I know – two big IF’s, but I think JFJ will actually be an upgrade on the 4th line…

      • Dude. Did you watch the last time JFJ was up here? He was freaking horrid. Don’t take my word for it, check the comments over at Lowetide’s GDT.

        Hey! JFJ got another hit in! And we’re down 5-0.

        • D-Man

          I did… And the stats don’t lie… JFJ lead our teams in hits last year and played only 49 or 50 games… Right now, we’re easy to play against and don’t engage physically… If you’re expecting JFJ or Stortini to score 10 to 15 goals or chip in that for assists, you’re looking at the wrong players…

          JFJ is overall a better player than Storts… I know we still lost 5-0 last night, but if he’s plays the physical game that he can for the 10 to 12 minutes of ice he gets per game, he is a good asset to the team…

        • D-Man

          He led the team in hits and played only 49 games last year… We continue to get slammed for being easy to play against… If we’re expecting JFJ to score 10 to 15 goals this year, you’re right – we’re looking at the wrong player… But if you’re looking to Stortini to do the same – again, you’re looking at the wrong player…

          JFJ is a better skater and can engage opponents with body checks better than Stortini or Jones… Is he going to score goals?? Probably not, but at least he’ll help preventing us from being run out of the rink….

          • The score last night is a pretty good indication we got run out of the rink. But hey, JFJ got a few hits so that’s something anyways. We’ll be harder to play if we start being tough on the puck and scoring some goals. We should all be clear that JFJ doesn’t play on any other NHL team except your Edmonton Oilers. My god, we’re the NHL version of the Bissell Center.

            *Throws rope up over light fixture. Adjusts hangman’s knot. Re-positions stool.*

          • D-Man

            Okay – walk away from the stool, slowly… We need passionate, reasonable fans like you on ON… Yeah – Jacques obviously isn’t the complete answer to our woes… We obviously need to be tougher in the top nine (which we can all agree JFJ, Jones or Stortini aren’t capable of)…

            Unfortunately, we don’t really have an impact player to add this strength to our top 9 (has anyone seen Penner lately?? Did he play last night, or for that matter at all this season??). It would be awesome if Omark was 6′ 2″ – we could use his grit and desire on the top two/three lines…

  • GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers lose 7-3 with 2 goal games from Pisani and Kane

    OBVIOUS PREDICTION: Khabibulin will be square to the shooter for every shot but still lets in 5 before getting yanked. The team keeps making excuses for the Russian Sieve.

    NOT-SO-OBVIOUS PREDICTION: Hearing all the criticism about the way he plays, Tom Gilbert decides to become grittier. Tom skates up to Duncan Keith, asks him if he wants to fight, then punches Ladislav Smid in the face.

  • I'm a Scientist!

    Jason Gregor wrote:

    The Oilers backend has been a mess all season.

    Man, I can feel their pain, I had some chilli for supper last night and let me tell you…Whoooo!

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Don’t mind the changes to the forwards, but my god is that defense sad. I wish I never read those pairings.

    GAME DAY PREDICTION: 4-3 Hawks in OT.

    OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Hawks score 2 minutes into the game.

    NOT-SO-OBVIOUS PREDICTION: Forgeting that he is no longer an Oiler, Pisani goes down the right side and roofs one on Crawford.

  • Dyckster

    Why in the (place fbomb here) is Khabi starting! I just don’t get it. Ex-team, winner in first two games this season against Chi-Town not withstanding. Dubnyk, by all rights, should be getting the nod.

    Ugh X 14,324,333

    • I'm a Scientist!

      I wholeheartedly agree. Khabi has had his moments of glory and might still be the better of the two goalies, but where is the teams confidence going to be with a tender that has been sooooo easily scored on in the last few games? Terrible choice.

  • positivebrontefan

    GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers lose 6-2.

    OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Khabby will make one spectacular save in the first period and will get the play of the game nod from the Sportsnet goofs.

    NOT-SO-OBVIOUS PREDICTION: After the game “Khabby” takes Kane for a ride in the Ferrari and Kane beats the hell out of him after out running the cops.

    • Dyckster

      NOT-SO-OBVIOUS PREDICTION: After the game “Khabby” takes Kane for a ride in the Ferrari and Kane beats the hell out of him after failing to get paid back on a fifty cent Khabbi IOU.

      Fixed it. :O