Edmonton Oilers veteran winger Ryan Smyth confident he’ll return next season
Head coach Ralph Krueger believes veteran has enough gas left in his tank to be valuable to team
Ryan Smyth signs autographs as he leaves Rexall Place. The Edmonton Oilers season ended Saturday night against Vancouver. Today they were cleaning out their locker-room and wrapping up things in Edmonton, April 28, 2013.
Photograph by: Bruce Edwards, Edmonton Journal
Edmonton Oilers winger Ryan Smyth suffered through the longest scoring drought of his long NHL career this season, going without notching a goal in the last two months.
But he feels he has reinvented himself as a defensive presence on the ice at 37.
Smyth, who finished with two goals and 13 points in 47 games this season, was much more noticeable the last couple of weeks even without scoring any goals. He was especially in effective in Minnesota in Friday night’s 6-1 victory over the Wild, getting in on the forecheck and even setting up a couple of goals.
“I don’t think I expected to play centre (fourth-liner due to injuries),” said Smyth, “but I was trying to lead by example and hopefully create some momentum in games. Every player wants to help out offensively. I’d love to have chipped in more, but it happens. Hopefully next year is better.”
“I feel healthy, my speed isn’t Taylor Hall. Never will be, never was, but I’ve earned everything I’ve got in my career and I want to continue to earn respect,” said Smyth, who added he’s not losing any sleep wondering if the team wants him back for the second year of his two-year contract.
“They’re not my cards. I can’t sit and worry about it,” he said.
Oilers head coach Ralph Krueger won’t say where he sees Smyth going forward, but he had no complaints about his role this season.
“There was some resistance for a few games, which I expected,” Krueger said. “But his acceptance of becoming a role player, his leadership, his voice ... they were very important. When (Lennart) Petrell and (Mike) Brown and Ryan became that character line for us, that gave us a different look. Smyth, Brown and (Jerred) Smithson was very important playing against the other team’s top lines in the last few games.
“He became much more vocal after he accepted it, and if everybody practised like Ryan Smyth, we’d have been a more consistent team. Doing extra. The day after he was scratched, he went out early with the goalies.”
Krueger feels Smyth has enough gas left in his tank.
“The last 10 games he played, with his conditioning base, he was good. The lower minutes helped, being a 13- or 14-minute-a-game player versus being a 20-minute player most of his career, but those 13 or 14 were hard minutes because he was on the penalty kill,” Krueger said.
Krueger had high praise for the job Nikolai Khabibulin did as Devan Dubnyk’s backup in his last year of a four-year contract.
“He’s an absolute professional,” said Krueger, “and his game days were always something to experience.
“His focus, his preparation, the way he came back from his hip surgery, then having the groin injury this season and coming back again and playing the way he did ... it was great to see,” Krueger said.
“And Devan? He’s definitely taken another step, which is exciting because he’s far from his total potential. He can take another one with some serious work in the off-season. We had a very strong goaltending team,” Krueger said.
Off to the worlds
Oilers defenceman Justin Schultz is on Canada’s preliminary world championship roster for the tournament, which starts May 3 in Stockholm and Helsinki.
But unless there are injuries, centre Sam Gagner, who had a strong season with 38 points, likely won’t be going over.
On the surface, it appears Hockey Canada has picked Philadelphia Flyers’ Matt Read over Gagner as one of the 12 forwards, although Canada can add three more players up until the last tournament game.
Schultz, who finished his rookie season with 27 points, the most of any first-year defenceman this year, joins Stephane Robidas, Brenden Dillon, T.J. Brodie, Luke Schenn, Brian Campbell and Jay Harrison.
Oilers wingers Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle are part of the 12 forwards going over.
Dubnyk will likely share duties with Phoenix Coyotes’ Mike Smith, who agreed to play even though he is an unrestricted free agent and has to guard against injury.
Oilers defenceman Ladislav Smid will play for the Czech Republic, but Ales Hemsky (broken foot) will not play in this tournament.
Yakupov not going?
As of now, Oilers rookie Nail Yakupov has not been asked to play for Russia at the world championship, which seems ridiculous considering he had 31 points, including 17 goals, in his first NHL season.
But he’s basking in the knowledge that he can play and be a force in the best league in the world.
Yakupov didn’t shoot nearly enough — when he only had one goal over a 26-game stretch, he had just 31 shots — but he picked it up in the last 10 days or so to finish with 81 shots.
”First half, I didn’t play much with the puck and I was a little bit scared to try to beat guys (one-on-one), but the last month, my coach, my linemates, my teammates they said, ‘just shoot it. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.’
“Ralph told me he wanted three or four shots from me every game. Last two games, I needed 12 shots, I think, but I did it.”
The result was five goals.
Yakupov knows Washington Capitals sniper Alex Ovechkin shoots from everywhere, which is why he’s had four 50-plus goal seasons, and he has to unload more, too.
“I’m not Ovie, though. He is way stronger. He has a rocket. He could score from the red-line,” Yakupov said.
Lander with Barons
Krueger said Anton Lander was rejoining Oklahoma City, with the Barons and Charlotte Checkers tied 1-1 in their best-of-five first-round American Hockey League playoff series.
Krueger’s defenceman son, Justin, plays for the Checkers, the Carolina Hurricanes farm club, but he said he won’t be watching that series live.
“Much better I stay away from that,” Krueger said, laughing. “I look at his team’s scores, ‘oh, yeah, he was plus-one, he got an assist, but they lost.’ That’s OK.’’
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