When Edmonton Oilers players start straggling onto the sheet down at Kinsman Arenas near Twin Brooks on the south side, it’s a sure sign hockey season is almost upon on us. Thank goodness for that.
With the dog days of summer giving way to September and nothing better for some fans to do than get their panties in a twist over what Jay Feaster has to say — prompting do-gooders with just as much time on their hands to mount soap boxes to defend Our Town — a handful of Oilers hit the ice today for sessions that will continue through the next week.
The rookie tournament in Penticton gets going next weekend. After that, it’s medicals and fitness testing and then on to the start of main training camp and pre-season — the puck drops in 15 days when the Oilers host the Minnesota Wild at Rexall Place.
Two weeks from now, nobody will waste much time worrying about what Feaster has to say — should the GM of a going-nowhere-fast team that’ll likely finish 10th-12th really feel good about being better than the Oilers this season? — and that’s a good thing.
It’s about time, no?
BACK IN TOWN . . .
There’s been great consternation over the state of Ryan Whitney’s surgically repaired right ankle, and with good reason, seeing as he "tweaked it" a couple weeks ago. And because, well, Edmonton’s defensive corps isn’t good enough to get along without him.
Will Whitney’s ankle be 100 per cent by the start of the season? We don’t know for sure. Whitney doesn’t know for sure, although he’s trying to sound confident. The key word, as it often is, is "patience."
"I’ve has a little bit of a string of bad luck," Whitney told reporters at the rink today, referring to two separate foot surgeries that put him on the shelf before the ankle let go last season.
"I’ve got to stay positive. That’s the one thing I’ve tried doing. As frustrating as it can be, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. So, for me, it’s about staying positive. Keep working through it.
"I know I’ll get there. It’s just about not rushing it. I did that once. I came back too early and didn’t play well, so it’s about being 100 per cent before I come back."
I expect Whitney will err on the side of extreme caution as he makes his way back and it only makes sense. It’s not as if he has to hurry because he has to "make the team" during pre-season.
Like I wrote awhile back, I’m nervous about the ankle, but that’s just me. I don’t have a shred of evidence from anybody connected to Whitney’s surgery or rehab telling me there’s a problem, but . . .
HOW SWEDE IT IS
Sophomore Magnus Paajarvi skated today and he’s one of four Swedes who’ll attend camp, with Linus Omark, Anton Lander and Johan Motin being the others.
The way it looks from where I sit, Paajarvi, Omark and Lander are going to go a long way in shaping the 2011-12 edition of the team, particularly if Lander can buck tough odds, as some people think he might, and earn a roster spot.
While Lander sounds like a comer from everything I’ve heard and Omark is intriguing because he teased fans with his remarkable puck skills last season, not to mention a stubborn streak that was a pleasant surprise, Paajarvi is the guy who has my attention.
A lot of people, me included, thought Paajarvi might be the best of a rookie crop that included Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle a year ago because he’d played three years in the Swedish Elite League. It didn’t pan out that way — at least not early on. New team. New country. New culture.
"I want to develop and I want to get more goals and I want to get more points for sure, but I want to get better as a hockey player, too, and be better for my team," said Paajarvi, who came on late and finished last season with 34 points.
"I think I’m ready for that. I’ve been working out really good this summer, I think. I’ve been working on things I need to work on. I’m really excited for this year."
WHILE I’M AT IT . . .
— NHL.com has come out with its 2011-12 Fantasy Rankings, a list that rates 180 players and is woefully short of Oilers, as you’d expect, with just four included among goaltenders, defensemen, left wingers, right wingers and centres.
Nikolai Khabibulin was rated 30th among goaltenders. Hall was the top-ranked Oiler, listed No. 15 among left wingers. Ales Hemsky was 21st among right wingers and Whitney was 31st among 60 defensemen who were ranked. The Oilers didn’t have a centre in the top 30 or in 10 honourable mentions given in the middle, although Ryan Smyth and Eberle go close-but-no-cigar mentions on the wings.
— I’m on the sniff trying to find out if the Oilers will extend a training camp invitation to a free agent or two, but no word yet. Given Whitney’s status and a lack of depth on the back end, it’s an idea worth pursuing. By the way, Lowetide’s suggestion GM Steve Tambellini ask Nick Boynton to take a twirl at camp is a cagey guess. He’d fit as a sixth or seventh guy.
That said, it’s interesting to note that former Oiler Steve Staios, another free agent without a job, is back in town and still has ties to Edmonton. He’s got a house here etc. Would Staios bite at a PTO at this point in his career or will he wait for a contract offer. Stay tuned.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.