GILBERT BRULE: READY TO BOUNCE BACK?

With a sound mind and body, might Gilbert Brule put his struggles of last season behind him and play his way back into the plans of the Edmonton Oilers in 2011-12?

Brule enjoyed the benefit of neither last season. He battled nagging injuries — a sprained ankle, a concussion and a bruised spleen — that had him in and out of the line-up and limited him to 41 games. He also wrestled with off-ice issues and family matters that weighed heavily on his mind.

The combination not only prompted speculation by fans and media alike about what might be wrong with the 24-year-old forward, it wiped away all the gains made during what many considered a break-out year in 2009-10, when he scored 17-20-37 in just 65 games. Brule had just seven goals and nine points.

Brule went from being perceived as kid who was finally living up to the reputation that saw Columbus select him sixth overall in the 2005 Entry Draft to something of an afterthought with many fans as they tried to figure out where, and if, he fits in with an Oilers team — he was supposed to be part of the trade with Los Angeles that brought Ryan Smyth back to Edmonton — that is laden with young talent at forward.

So, that opening paragraph is a question worth asking — if Brule has his head on straight and can stay healthy, does he have a chance to bounce back and make himself part of the plans again?

DIFFICULT TIMES

"Everyone has their issues, right? This was stuff that was between my family," Brule said in an interview with Jim Matheson and I at Kinsmen Arenas today. "Things like that.

"It was all new to me, so it was kind of just thrown on my plate and I was dealing with it as I was trying to deal with it as I was trying to deal with a very stressful hockey season. It was very tough, especially with all the injuries I had as well on top of that. It just all kind of weighed down on me pretty heavily last year."

Given what Brule told me about his off-ice situation and that the subject of depression was prominent in the headlines this summer after the suicide of Rick Rypien last month, I asked him if depression was an issue with him, and if he’s been treated for it.

"The things that I had to go through with my family were very, very tough and I would never wish this upon anyone, honestly," Brule said.

"It definitely affected me in a very negative way and I was not feeling very good about myself. That’s why I wanted to start talking to these people because I’m a good athlete and I’m a good hockey player and I need to be reminded of that and be reassured and have confidence in myself instead of just getting down on myself."

HEAD GAMES

"I wasn’t missing hockey because of those things," he said. "It was mostly because of injuries or flu, whatever it was. Things like that. These things I’ve dealt with all last year with the doctors on our team.

"This summer, I saw a psychologist and a sports psychologist, so I’m trying to get that mental strength back that I kind of lost a little bit . . . I need to get back to that.

"I need to be reminded, to remember that I’m a good player, I was drafted in the first round and I can play. Under the right circumstances, I need to get a good chance and I need to play well and be confident in myself."

Compounding the injuries and the family distractions, Brule got down on himself because of his lack of success on the ice. Add it all up, and Brule made the choice to get help. It struck me that he looked and sounded like a brand new man when we chatted today.

WORST CRITIC

"I think I’m my worst critic," Brule said. "After every game, I’m the one saying I should have done this and that. This year, I’m working with a sports psychologist like crazy to just get away from that.

"I can’t think like that. That thinking drags me down and just makes me think too much. After games, I’ve got to sort of, ‘You know what, I didn’t do those things right. That’s not me. This is what I have to do.’ That’s it. I can’t constantly be thinking all these thoughts. That’s when you don’t get sleep and it’s just too much."

Brule is confident he’s turned the corner and can pick up where he left off at the end of the 2009-10 season. Time, as it always does, will tell, but you hope for the best with a likeable kid like him.

"I feel great this year coming into camp," Brule said. "Even with all the stuff that happened this summer, I don’t even think about it anymore. I’m thinking of it as a new slate for me.

"You know, maybe they (Oilers) aren’t thinking that, but that’s the way I’m going in thinking. I just have to put my best foot forward.

"I’m human. Everyone has issues, right? I think the Oilers have been great with me. They’re treating me just like a regular person, they’re not treating me like I’m some crazy whatever . . . they’ve been very good with me and very patient, which I respect."

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

  • Wax Man Riley

    I think Brule will end up playing on the wing this year. With Lander and RNH in the mix, i don’t see him fitting in at C.

    Lander, I still believe, will start in the AHL.

  • Wax Man Riley

    Good to hear that he feels that he is turning a corner. I think it was a great decision to see a sports psychologist to re-evaluate his frame of mind.

    I wish him the best and it gives me even more to look forward to for this season.

    • Chris.

      If Brule plays better than those other two than he should be on the team. There is no point pushing players through their entry level contract if they aren’t ready to outperform the Brule’s of the world…

      Besides, wouldn’t it be hilarious to see Lombardi’s face if Brule had a 20 goal season?

        • Clarence Oveur

          The only egg is on Tambellini’s face.

          Lombardi would have bought out Brule in a heartbeat but the NHL lawyers wouldn’t approve the deal despite working late into the night trying to compensate for Tambellini’s lack of forbearance.

          What Lombardi got out of the deal was $6.5 million in free cap space with which he was able to acquire Mike Richards.

          Even if Brule were able to score 20 I hardly doubt Lombardi would give a flying donut.

          He’s got 7 forwards (Kopitar, Williams, Gagne, Penner, Richards, Brown, Stoll) and two defensemen in Doughty and Johnson who can outscore Brule in their sleep with Loktionov, Toffoli, Vey and Weal on the way.

  • Good for him, in the wake of this terrible summer I’m glad there is more openness (sp?) about his depression or whatever you want to call it. He didnt have to answer, and he would have been within his rights not to, but maybe its one awkward step towards dispelling the taboos of mental health problems.

    I dont see him as a big part of this team’s future, but if he’s cool enough for Bono then he’s cool enough for me.

  • I give Brule a lot of credit for talking about some off the off-ice issues that weighed on him. His being in and out of the line-up led to a lot of speculation something was wrong.

    I wasn’t comfortable asking Brule about the off-ice stuff — especially bringing up the depression aspect and if it applied to him — and he wasn’t comfortable answering, but he was quite candid.

    Brule’s poor performance last season just didn’t add up to me, based on what I saw in 2009-10, and this might explain some of it.

      • Jason Gregor

        I spoke with Brule on air today and he said he started speaking with a psychologist once the season ended. He was already talking with both of them well before the Rypien and Belak situations.

        • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

          I caught that and was pleased how open he was.

          Hopefully someone looks at Brule and realizes they aren’t alone and goes for help.

          When you going to Penticton?

  • Wax Man Riley

    On a completely unrelated note, I just saw RNH driving his big black Ford. I gave him a thumbs up. He gave me one back!

    *swwooooonnn*

    EDIT: I wonder if that’s against the distracted driving legislation.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Here’s hoping he can bounce back and score 10 – 12 with some energy in a bottom 6 role.

    Could be a nice tweener like Jones that can move up and down the line-up when neeed.

  • I hope he can put together a solid season. It has to be tough playing under emotional duress, mixed with physical ailments under a media microscope.

    Didn’t Horcoff see a Sports Psychologist and then go on to have a good season (before shoulder surgery).

    I’m rootin’ for him.

  • John Chambers

    I like Brule. I picked him as my star last year.

    He’s not going to be a top-6 forward in the NHL, but he battles for the puck like a wolverine, has a cannon for a shot, and is pals with Bono.

    JC for one hopes he battles hard in camp, pushes some of the younger guys down to OKC, and at some point even finds some time playing point on the pp. I’m glad we traded Colin Fraser instead of Brule because old Gilles has much greater upside if he can bounce back.

    And he’s from E-town. What’s not to like?

    • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

      You know you had me tell he is pals with bono.

      The way I look at it is the guy had one good season and was paid for it. It was also a season that coming into camp he was fighting for a roster spot. I think if people forget the whole putting up 40 points and forget about his contract that he could be a decent player for us.

  • Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach

    Rishaug seemed to have good things to say about him the other day. Hopefully he can bounce back for us and add some competition.