WILL A LEADER EMERGE?

"Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it."

I don’t know who to credit with that old saying, but I’ve always believed it to be true. I’m wondering, in that context, what will be revealed about the Edmonton Oilers in the next month, a stretch that will see them play nine or 10 games without injured Ales Hemsky and captain Shawn Horcoff.

What, if anything, will we find out about the collective character of this team? What, if anything, will we find out about the individuals who make up the team? Will a leader or two emerge? Will anybody, as players like to say, "step up?" With Hemsky gone for all of December and Horcoff out for another month longer than that, who among those left in the dressing room will lead the way, or maybe show us something we haven’t seen from them before? Who will step up?

What will be revealed?

A TOUGH GO

With the Oilers already sitting at the bottom of Western Conference standings with 25 points from a 10-12-5 record, I’m thinking they will do well to get out of December with more than 13 wins in the books, regardless of how many players pick up the slack created by the loss of Hemsky and Horcoff.

This team simply doesn’t have the depth of talent or experience to click along unaffected without them. There was barely enough scoring with Hemsky and Horcoff healthy to get by. The defence, with the pairings somewhat sorted out, has looked better recently, but it certainly hasn’t made the leap from being a glaring weakness to a strength. What of the already inept penalty killing without Horcoff and the power play without the creativity of Hemsky?

How will youngsters Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi play without being caddied by Horcoff and Hemsky? I don’t have the answers to any of the above. Only nagging doubts about all of it.

Will Sam Gagner take the wheel? How about Dustin Penner? Is he that guy? What say you about Ryan Whitney? Whitney, who’s been The Fixer for anything and everything that has ailed his teammates on the blueline this season, would be my guess. But that’s all it is, a guess.

TURN HIM LOOSE

I’m looking forward to seeing how the obvious offensive talents of Linus Omark translate to the NHL, if they translate, starting Friday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

What I like best about the 23-year-old Swedish winger is the swagger and confidence he exudes. I don’t have a problem with him being pissed off about not landing a roster spot out of training camp. I don’t have an issue with him talking about it, either.

I don’t give a squirt about the YouTube stuff that made Omark a celebrity over in Europe and got Oilers fans buzzing before he ever set foot in this town. That’s window dressing. Flash. Pizzazz. Fine and good.

What’s got me thinking he’s got a chance to do something is the look I see in his eyes when he talks. There’s an "I’ll-show-you" little guy thing at work in there somewhere, and it’s something I’ve seen before. Cliff Ronning had it. Back in 1984, I sat in Queen’s Park Arena with Ronning and asked him if he had any hope of repeating the 136-point season he was coming off with the New Westminster Bruins. I asked Ronning if all the cards had fallen just the right way for him the season before. Essentially, if we’d seen a one-off.

He looked at me as if I’d insulted his mom. He said simply," I guess we’ll see." His eyes were burning. He scored 197 points that season. I know Ronning is ancient history to most of the readers here, but when you’ve seen that particular look once, you don’t forget it. I saw it again today as reporters quizzed Omark.

WHILE I’M AT IT . . .

— Speaking of opportunities with Horcoff and Hemsky out of the line-up, these next two months present Ryan O’Marra with the best opportunity of his young career to prove he belongs in the NHL. Can he be the checking centre who wins face-offs the Oilers wanted Colin Fraser to be?

— I’m thinking Paajarvi might benefit as much as anybody with Hemsky and Horcoff out of the line-up. He’s been coming on of late anyway, and he’s going to see a lot more time in Tom Renney’s top-six than he’s had to this point. He skated with Andrew Cogliano and Penner today.

— As Jason Gregor already pointed out, Omark skated with O’Marra and Ryan Jones today. As well as Jones had played the last month, I’d rather see Gilbert Brule on the right wing on that line. I think he’d open up more ice for Omark with his speed.

— Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Not so sure we’re going to learn anything we don’t already know. We’ve been facing adversity for a few years already, the only thing of interest is to see how Hall and Eberle handle these current conditions.

    This roster is full of support players, players who’ll succeed when the leaders are in place, but on their own, i think we all know whats coming, and it isn’t such a bad thing.

    Hall and Eberle will carry more of the load, it would be interesting to see Dustin Penners game if they plopped him in the middle of these two.

  • Oilers4ever

    Anyone who didn’t think it was going to take this team with all the new players and kids and good 20 games to gel properly is nuts. And that’s about exactly what it took and now they are playing like they can…

    John… put a sock in it. 🙂 Of course what we think does’t influence their play… however, it is a proven fact that people’s own ability in how their own lives are lived does directly relate to the type of either positive or mental attitude that you have… If every single Oil fan walked around thinking their team was useless, crap, good for nothing, throw them in the garbage, that’s their choice, it won’t affect the team other than them maybe bashing those fans doing that. 🙂 But if the players themselves all walked around thinking and saying things like that their play would definately show that way.

    Soooooo… my point is they are more up beat and positive this year with the injuries because they do have depth… their current standings withdrawn, they have players to be bring up and they didn’t have that last year, that’s my point. There’s too much frickin cynicism and skepticism around here with regards to this team finishing last, needing another lottery pick etc… I’m glad the players are out to win and such. If they played like a lot of their fans here hope they play in getting a draft lottery pick again no one would go to the games because they’d be a disgrace to watch and not worth the entertainment dollar spent. I sincerely hope that those people who have all the pessimism towards the Oil and their play and injuries have a little more positive outlook in their own life, otherwise I’m glad I don’t walk in their shoes… everything would look like a rainy day.

  • Oilers4ever

    Robin:

    Is it possible that we already have the centre that we have been waiting for? I look at the way Paajarvi plays, his speed, two way play and passing skill and wonder if with guidance he may develop in similar fashion to others who have switched position. Some have suggested moving Hall to centre but I would rather that he stay on the wing.

    Perhaps now is the time to test the waters with Paajarvi at centre.

    I am interested in your comments on this.

    • Good question. For me, almost nothing is out of the question when it comes to trying players in different spots right now.

      I haven’t asked Renney about Magnus at centre, but I just might do that and see what he says. The question I might have about Paajarvi at this point in his career is his on-ice vision when it comes to distributing the puck. He’s already making a lot of adjustments without adding a new position to the mix.

  • Oilers4ever

    Nice Ronning comparable. I see that competitiveness in Omark as well and can only hope that this elevates his game in the eyes of everyone. Martin St Louis had to overcome his size issue as well. Calgary gave up on him, so down he goes to Tampa to win the Hart and the Conn Smythe in 2004 while at the same time putting the dagger to Flames’ fans hearts. And remember, St Louis did this pre-lockout before the rule changes and smaller guys were at an even greater disadvantage.

    If Omark has 3/4 of St Louis’ willpower and 3/4 of his skill, then Omark should at least be a quality NHLer.

  • Dyckster

    Robin,

    This will probably be posted as past of today’s GDB, but what were the line combos in this morning’s skate?

    Same as yesterday’s? Listening to 1260 yesterday it (I think you talked about it?) was mentioned that sometimes Renney’s practice combos don’t match the gameday combos….

  • Dyckster

    Cant wait to see the kids play! Wow this is a young team. By the way some comments made earlier about Omark and his “youtube moves in the Swedish league” well guess what he’s pulling the same moves of here in North America in the AHL too.