by Lisa McRitchie on 05/07/13 at 12:15 AM ET
The Edmonton Oilers need help on their blueline. And not soon, but now. While draft picks alone cannot remedy the situation, the team has been aware of the gaping holes in their depth and roster while making their selections on draft day year after year.
While defencemen tend to take longer to develop and to prepare themselves physically those who have been in the system for a few years, are inching their way closer to making an impact. The defenceman most recently added to the list is 6’5” 191 lb Slovakian Martin Gernat.
Gernat was selected in the 5th round of the 2011 NHL entry draft. That year, Gernat’s selection was of course overshadowed by that of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Following Gernat’s draft, the Edmonton Oil Kings selected the defenceman in the European expansion draft, giving the young Slovakian player the opportunity to experience the North American game first hand.
While Slovakia has exported highly skilled players in the past, a lot has changed since Marian Hossa was a youth hockey player. The country is losing the resources, including coaching staff required to run efficient and high level hockey.
And so, by bringing Gernat to the WHL, he had the opportunity to not only work on his game with top level coaches and on an exceptional team, but also to work on his English skills.
Gernat received English language training through school, but as anyone who has attempted to learn a second language knows, there is a big difference between a classroom and practical application.
While Gernat’s English may not have been stellar, his attitude was. Because Gernat is a positive and outgoing individual, it was easy for him to reach out to his teammates. It also helped that he had Oilers’ prospect winger Kristians Pelss to help with any language issues or questions. With Pelss now playing for the Oklahoma City Barons in the AHL, Gernat may have gained the most, personally, from the Oil Kings’ acquisition of Czech defenceman David Musil.
“[My English] is getting better all of the time. I get more experience every day. It’s almost my second year, so I feel very comfortable here.” Gernat explained.
“It’s pretty fun to be here. I didn’t play the start of the season because I had surgery, but now it’s pretty fun, we can speak the same language and have a good time together. It’s pretty cool to have someone, again, someone like Pelssy.”
It’s not just the language that can make being a new country, a strange place difficult. It’s also the food, the humour, the culture, the entertainment. Everything is different from what you grew up with, and your family are far away on top of everything. And so the friends that people like Gernat make, especially on their own team are not just there to help them with the language barrier, but also to feel more comfortable in every aspect of their new life.
The bonds forged between Gernat and Pelss are not soon to be forgotten, especially since the two are both prospects for the Oilers. So it's not surprising to hear Gernat mention talking to Pelss and Marincin on a regular basis.
“I still talk to Marty [Marincin] and Pelssy. It’s pretty cool being so close by so far. Over Skype we can see each other but they are still in Oklahoma so still pretty far away.”
Gernat’s year has not been ideal. He started the WHL season in Slovakia, recovering from shoulder surgery. The recovery process was long and arduous for both Gernat and the team. But once Gernat returned to the team, it was like he never left. In fact, I would even wager that he had added an extra few miles per hour on his slapshot.
In only 23 regular season games, Gernat scored 3 goals and put up 10 assists on this talent laden Oil Kings team. In the playoffs, Gernat has scored 6 goals and another 10 assists in 18 games.
Part of the inspiration might be Gernat’s newly signed contract. “I think it’s an amazing feeling. It’s a big step in my career for me. Now I’ve got some work before me. I’ve got to work over the summer to put some meat on me. That will be important for the next step; the AHL or the NHL.”
“I’m feeling pretty comfy here. I get a lot of ice time and on the power play I have opportunity too. I’m pretty confident to be there.”
The Oil Kings are currently tied, 1-1 in the WHL finals against the Portland Winterhawks, just like last season. The Oil Kings did eventually win the series, 4 games to 3 at home to advance to the Memorial Cup.
Gernat feels that it was the experiences gained last season that will help his team the most in these final games of the WHL season.
“It’s a big experience for everyone who played last year here. I can say that we are feeling comfortable and it’s easier for us than last year. Last year it was the first time, the first experience for big games. Now we know how to feel there and we have to keep going.”
Smart money is on the WHL finals going the distance. These were the reigning champions of their respective conferences through the regular season once again. And the Winterhawks have top end talent and household names such including Seth Jones, potential first overall 2013 pick and Ty Rattie. The major difference this year will be that the Winterhawks have the final home game. If the Gernat and the Oil Kings hope to win a second title this year, they will need to win at home as well as steal another game from the Winterhawks in their own barn.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.
Although the Oilers have had a difficult past decade… or three, here at Oil Patch, the future looks bright.
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