Friday, January 11, 2013

Oilers Player Preview: Time for Hemsky to turn it up a notch or two

For many a year, Ales Hemsky was the Edmonton Oilers best player and more often than not, it was by a very wider margin. That is no longer the case in this neck of the woods but that in no way shape or form diminishes the importance of Hemsky's presence in the here and now.

This will be a very important season in not only the development of this young Oilers roster but also in what the future holds for the talented Czech. He has been passed on Edmonton's depth chart by Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins but he may very well be the piece that gives this club a shot at returning back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

During the NHL Lockout, Hemsky decided to head back to the Czech Republic and was reportedly outstanding during his time with  Pardubice HC in the Czech Extraliga. Despite playing in just twenty-seven games, he led the team in scoring with thirty-two points, scoring fourteen times.

According to defenceman Ladislav Smid, who played part of the lockout with the Liberec Bili Tygri HC, Hemsky looked as good as he has seen him in two or three years...which was the last time Ales was truly healthy. Numbers and words that have to put a smile on the face of new head coach Ralph Krueger.  

While it looks as though Edmonton's new bench boss will likely start the season with a top line featuring Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Hall, that would leave Mr.Hemsky with Sam Gagner and newcomer Nail Yakupov as his linemates to start the 2013 campaign. It is certainly a trio with loads of potential but also one with question marks.

The knocks against Gagner are well known to all that follow the Oil. No one doubts his abilities to put points on the board but its his lack of size and defensive awareness, that are an issue. Add to that the fact Yakupov will likely be adequate at best in his own end and Hemsky could have his hands full.

With that being the case, #83 is going to have to set up his game on a nightly basis and not pull the disappearing act he did on many a night last season. In order for this line to produce, Hemsky must be the straw that stirs the drink. Not surprisingly, he looked frustrated when he wasn't seeing  regular ice with any of the big three last season but that should not be an issue this year.

Playing alongside the energetic young Russian should re-ignite the twenty-nine year old vet. The combination of Yakupov and Hemsky could be downright frightening to watch and strike the fear of god in many an NHL netminder. The potential of something special developing between the two right wingers, could be very real, should one of them take to playing on the left side of the ice.

Though at some point, don't be surprised to see Krueger mix up the look within his top six. Meaning last season's Hall-Hemsky combo could be re-visited or perhaps giving an extended run to the Eberle-RNH-Hemsky trio.  Regardless of what they decide to do, one thing is clear.

Edmonton's current group of forwards is oozing with high end talent...something that Oilers fans have not seen in a very, very long time.  

2012-2013 Prediction: 12 G, 30 A, 42 Pts

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