EDMONTON - So the question was posed to Ryan Smyth.
How many head coaches is this for you with the Oilers, with Dallas Eakins coming aboard?
Who was Smyth’s first?
“Uh, George Burnett,” said the left-winger, who played his first National Hockey League game 19 years ago.
“Then there was Ronnie Low, Kevin Lowe (current president of hockey operations), MacT (current general manager Craig MacTavish), Tom Renney, Ralph Krueger, now Dallas.”
That’s seven for the 37-year-old Smyth, whose role in the bottom six forwards is in limbo.
If Taylor Hall moves from left-wing to centre with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins rehabilitating after shoulder surgery, Smyth could move up in the pecking order. Maybe he would be the third-line left-winger, not fourth, with centre Boyd Gordon and say, Ryan Jones.
“Whatever happens, happens,” said Smyth.
“I still believe I can deliver some offence,” said Smyth, who had a meagre two goals last season.
“I can certainly give more than I did last year. I have to start quicker.“I don’t want to be known as just a defensive player now.”
Smyth was tickled to hear the new change for goal nets, where the depth will be four inches shallower, allowing for more room behind the cage to make a play, or in Smyth’s case, more area to try his signature wraparound. “Might give me four or five more goals,” he said, laughing. “It’s been hard to score on wraparounds. Look at the goalies. They’re all six-foot-five and capable of getting their leg right across the crease. The extra four inches for us should help a little bit.”
Smyth got negligible power play time last season, even though 154 of his 376 goals have come there. Maybe he’ll get a little second power play time this season. He still stands in front of the net better than any other Oiler forward.
“I was called upon to play PK last year and I thought I was responsible. And if I get called on to play power play, I’ll do the same,” he said.
Smyth conceded he’s fortunate to have a second year on his two-year contract with so many unrestricted free agents with their noses pressed up against the glass, hoping for work with the salary cap down to $64.3 million, “The timing of having a two-year deal certainly helps with the CBA knocking down the salary cap. I’m taking that good fortune. I’’m just trying to enjoy where I am,” he said.
Smyth is expecting hard practices from Eakins, a stickler for conditioning.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins shrugged when told the Oiler management has Nov. 1 as a target date for him to play after his shoulder surgery. “I haven’t even talked to them (doctors or upper brass). As a player you want to get back as soon as possible but you also have to be smart,” he said, cognizant that teams always err on the side of caution and are being pessimistic about his return date. He doesn’t think he’ll miss October, which would be 14 games, or one-sixth of the season.
New Oiler Andrew Ference, Eakins and centre Sam Gagner were at the Alberta Legislature grounds at 6 a.m. Monday to kick off Ference’s November Project fitness program. It’s an initiative that started in 2011 in Boston with two of Ference’s friends to stay in shape in the winter months with physical activity throughout the city. “It morphed from them (rowers) wanting to stay fit to being accountable to each other to becoming a community building, half fitness-oriented initiative,” Ference told the Oilers’ website. The cross-fit and yoga people became heavily involved. About 200 people showed up Monday morning to see Ference, Eakins and Gagner. “It’s about getting back to making face-to-face contact with people and making real friendships.” You won’t find a fitter NHL coach than Eakins.
If Hall plays the middle in camp, who’s the first-line left-winger? David Perron? Nail Yakupov? Here’s how it could look with the top two lines in exhibition season, from left-wing to right. Perron-Sam Gagner-Jordan Eberle; Nail Yakupov-Hall-Ales Hemsky. Or Eberle and Hemsky could switch lines. So far, no word on whether Yakupov will be switching from 64 to his junior No. 10 with former captain Shawn Horcoff now in Dallas. The ex-St. Louis Blues’ winger Perron will wear 57. Smyth and Ryan Jones could flank Boyd Gordon on a third line. Only sure thing about the fourth line: Mike Brown will be on it. Still feel the Oilers need a bigger tag-team pugilist for the game but light-heavy Brown to ride herd but they don’t think so. Brown had 12 fighting majors last season.
ON THE BENCH — Former Oiler defenceman Ryan Whitney, who is going to St. Louis’s camp on a tryout, will be one of 16 blueliners there, and we’re not counting Alex Pietrangelo, who is looking for a home run long-term, at least $6 million a year deal. Whitney is insurance in case they can’t sign their best defenceman Pietrangelo for the start of the season but really Whitney took the professional tryout offer to stay active, so somebody else notices him. Eventually the Blues will sign Pietrangelo. There were 25 Oiler players at Terwillegar Monday. Notable absentees: Hemsky, who may have had another commitment, and newcomer/Russian Anton Belov, who has immigration issues. Fellow Russian Denis Grebeshkov is here for a second whirl with the club ... Brown, who’ll be on the fourth line as the team’s bodyguard, was sporting a nice handlebar moustache ... Winger Ben Eager looks noticeably thinner, certainly in the face, after his first two Oiler seasons. He’s fighting for a fourth-line spot, after clearing waivers and winding up in Oklahoma the last few months last season. He’s got one year left at $1.2 million salary ... Another one-time Oiler Dan Cleary says he hasn’t signed in Philly, but it’s imminent. Dallas was a strong possibility but they’re depth chart won’t allow for another older player. They have lots of kids to look at.
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