In re-acquiring Ryan Smyth, the Edmonton Oilers were able to add some much needed veteran scoring depth upfront while bringing back the most popular post dynasty player in team history. There are not many players on the current roster that know what it means to be an Edmonton Oiler. Of all the qualities that Smyth brings to the table as a player and leader, nothing he does in his second go round in Edmonton will be as important as teaching the young core the responsibility that comes with pulling on an Edmonton Oilers jersey. If he is able to instill amongst the core group the honour that comes with wearing that logo on their chests, then he will have done his job...and more.
For the coming season, I see Smyth playing on various lines as the season moves along but his regular slot will be on the Oilers second line as the veteran presence with Jordan Eberle and rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. His willingness to battle in corners and go to the front of the net will make him the perfect compliment for the two youngsters. Playing with the veteran winger will free up both Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins to allow the duo to start developing chemistry while Smyth does the dirty work. Having Captain Canada on the line will allow him to lighten the load on the rookie centre when it comes to taking draws. While Smyth isn't a world beater in the faceoff dot, having him as an option to Nugent-Hopkins will take a bit of pressure off the first overall selection.
The trading of Dustin Penner at last years deadline left the Oilers with only Teemu Hartikainen as a true net presence on the power play. With the signings of Eric Belanger and Ben Eager on top of re-acquiring Smyth, the chances of Hartikainen starting the season in Edmonton are slim at best. This will make Smyth the go to guy on the PP and adding one of the best net players in the league should make the Oilers power play much more effective. Smyth's ability to deflect pucks while being a disturbance to the oppositions netminder is legendary and hopefully he will be able to help bring this skill set out in the game of the developing Hartikainen. Whenever that opportunity arises, be it in training camp or during an in season call up for the young Finnish forward, this will be a must for Smyth to accomplish in his return to Oil Country.
As far as the power play in 2011-2012 goes, by posting Smyth in front of the goal it will not only give players like Ales Hemsky, Linus Omark and Sam Gagner more time and space to move the puck but it also allows Eberle and Taylor Hall to free themselves up from coverage. Smyth typically will take one if not both defenders with him to the front of the net, hence leaving plenty of room for the rest of the power play unit to generate quality scoring chances...something not seen in these parts for ages.
Typically, I am not one for bringing former players back for a second go round but the addition of Ryan Smyth was exactly what this organization needed. To bring back a player that still bleeds Oiler blue while being able to help in other areas was an opportunity they could not pass up. The long term benefits in having him return home are seemingly endless for the Edmonton Oilers...no matter how hard Dean Lombardi tries to change that.
2011-2012 Prediction: 21 G - 24 A - 45 Pts