Where does Gilbert Brule fit in the plans of the Edmonton Oilers? More to the point with the NHL trade deadline approaching Monday, does Brule fit in the plans with the Oilers?
I thought I had the answer to that after the 2009-10 season Brule put together with the Oilers, a campaign in which he scored 17-20-37 in 65 games. The way I saw it, Brule had finally broken the prospect-suspect-prospect cycle he seemed to have fallen into since being selected sixth overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets from the Vancouver Giants in the 2005 Entry Draft.
I have to say, knowing what I do about Brule as a person, knowing how he’d been rushed along and mishandled by the Jackets as a teenager, I was happy to see the kid start to put things together. I was sure he was on his way to meeting the lofty expectations people had of him on draft day. Obviously, I was mistaken.
Brule has taken just as many steps back this season as he took forward one year ago. His next game — the latest word from the Oilers is he won’t play against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver tonight — will be just his 38th of the season.
Brule’s inability to stay in the line-up has him right back in the suspect category.
ILLNESS AND INJURY
Brule, still only 24, played every one of the Oilers games through Dec. 16 except one. Brule had a brutal start, but he was in the mix. Since then, he has played just four games, the last coming Jan. 6 against the New York Islanders, when he scored his sixth goal of the season. All told, he has tallied 6-2-8 in 37 games.
He’s been out with what the Oilers have listed as an "upper body injury." Before that, it was "illness." At the best of times, I’m leery of the NHL’s edict that injuries be cloaked in broad generalizations like that.
Damn lies much of the time, history shows. How many upper body injuries have been sprained ankles? How many lower body injuries are bad shoulders? Why the subterfuge? And what is illness? It could be anything from a garden variety case of the flu to eczema, and anything in between no? But I digress . . .
The bottom line — no, it’s not his shooting percentage — is Brule hasn’t been healthy or durable enough, whatever it is that ails him, to follow up on the promise he showed last year. He’s right back at square one, maybe a step back of that given that he’s a year older in the middle of a youth movement. So, now what?
With his ability to skate, his shot and the physical edge he plays with despite his stature, Brule has shown he has the attributes to be a top-notch third-liner. Maybe top-six in a pinch, if he’s spotted in. Wing or centre? That’s another question. Either way, despite his mediocrity on the dot, he has some tools to work with.
On top of all that, not that it matters to people shelling out good money for tickets, Brule is a decent, earnest young man, along the same lines of Andrew Cogliano. Brule, you might remember, donated $10,000 of his own money last summer to help Maddox Flynn, the boy who is flying back and forth to New York to have surgeries to remove tumours from his face. Brule didn’t do that for PR purposes. He did it to help.
In the end, though, from a hockey operations perspective, it doesn’t matter if Brule is a fine you man with a big heart or a jerk who could not care less about the city where he draws his pay cheques.
What Brule has to do, starting with his very next shift, is re-establish where he fits, if he fits, in the Oilers pecking order. Is Brule a part of the plan moving forward or has he been left behind?
I pull for the kid, but I don’t know.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.