by Lisa McRitchie on 09/06/11 at 01:45 AM ET
With NHL training camps just around the corner, hopes are high and everyone looks to their crystal and magic 8 balls to make their predictions for the coming season. Fans, media and players alike have ideas on what to expect. If there is any point in the season to be full of hope and optimism, surely that time is now. After all, the team hasn’t lost any games, no one has been a healthy scratch, and the IR list should be blank.*
*darn you Ryan Whitney!
With a plethora of Ryans on the Oilers list of players and prospects, things could get interesting. Already, a pecking order of sorts is evolving. Ryan Jones once claimed to have the greatest flow on the Oilers. Now, he has updated his twitter status to include “Thanks to Ryan Smyth I now have the 2nd best hair on the team… damn u #94!!” Then of course, there is Ryan Whitney, who has had some injury concerns even through the off-season.
This past week two Ryans, in Jones and Smyth, spoke with the Oilers media crew about the upcoming season. Without surprise, both Ryans are optimistic about what this year will bring. I say without surprise as these are the fan favourites. Part of their job seems to be rallying the fans. Neither winger should have trouble in that regard; fans were elated with Smyth’s return and Jones’ need only make one of his trademark celebration smiles.
“I think the team’s going to win in the next year, two years,” Jones predicts at the Perry Pearn’s 3-on-3 pro-camp. “We have all of the pieces to the puzzle right now. The young kids have some experience and I think that I have a spot on the team. My versatility is something that Tom [Renney] has said that he’ll use and I like being able to play up and down the lineup.“
Infuriating some last season, Jones tied Jordan Eberle for third place total goals (18) through the season. Some don’t see Jones as a “good” hockey player and would rather he was not a member of the Oilers. Those that were delighted with Jones’ results were likely quite pleased to see Jones sign another contract with the Oilers and begin to prepare for the 2011-12 season. The latter group should appreciate what Jones feels he will bring to the team.
“I just want to play hard for Tom and for the team; like I said earlier to be a versatile player that he can throw out at any minute in any game. And that’s one thing, couple that with the way that I play the game; going to the net, banging home the loose pucks and the goals will come. It’s hard to set a number, but I expressed to them that I didn’t think that that was the best year that I’d had in the NHL. I went into this summer trying to grow on things that I can possibly improve on and hopefully I’ll just have a better year next year and continue to grow. There are a lot of experts out there and they’re smart guys, but it wouldn’t be the first time that they picked somebody to be last that they haven’t done that. As a team I think that we’re going to be a tough team, hard to play against and if we do that consistently every night we’re going to find ourselves in the playoffs. I think that’s a realistic goal for this team.”
The west will be tough competition, and the Northwest Division should be particularly interesting, as it always is, but no one should be shocked to hear players like Hall, Gagner and now Jones saying that the playoffs should be the goal, and is quite possibly a reasonable goal.
Ryan Smyth looks serious as he speaks to the media, but a few wins in, the smile and gleam in his eye should return. If nothing else, Smyth says “It’s exciting to come to the rink right now, to see the smiles on these kids’ faces but also get in that hockey mode again.”
Smyth knows where the Oilers have finished the past two seasons and is right when he says “We’ve got nowhere to go but up, and in this game it’s all about opportunity.”
“It’s exciting to watch the last few years; it’s exciting to be on the same side now.” But unfortunately for Smyth, that also means facing other youthful and skilled teams with a team that has finished dead last two years in a row.
Knowing that the leap from the bottom to the top is huge, Smyth reminds Oilers fans “You don’t want to set your margins too high, but you want to make sure that you, collectively as a group, come together and be on the same page ... You want to take full opportunity of progressing and getting better. There’s no doubt that we can give ourselves the chance.”
No matter where you set your expectations for the coming season, at this point of the year, it’s a lot of circular arguments and speculations. Where the Oilers will end up two weeks into the season, or two months will depend not only on the Oilers but also on the other teams; especially the other NW division teams. If the members of the team have their way, Oilers fans should be nothing but hopeful.
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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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