"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.