Edmonton hadn't played since April 7th, so by the time January 20th of this year rolled around I needed a reminder of how good Ales Hemsky is. OK, I got my reminder loud and clear in regulation and in the shootout. He reminded me and many others who watched the game how good he can be. His goal off the wing was built with speed. His shootout marker to end the night was a combination of deft hands, extreme skill and a confidence level to match. Even if he joked afterwards that he nearly deked himself out. We certainly know he deked out Roberto Luongo.
Ever since Edmonton drafted Hemsky 13th overall in 2001, great things have been expected of him. It was again one of those nights where he leaves you wanting and wondering if there is more in that road hockey stick of his. I know achieving full potential is predicated on, first and foremost, having your health. The former first rounder hasn't had that in years. He's either been too hurt to play or he's played but not nearly been in peak condition. Two shoulders, two surgeries, two seasons ended. That's why when Hemsky says, for a second time, that he feels better now then he did before the surgery, you want to believe that the winger isn't just saying it but living it as well.
Some of the lean years weren't all about health. It was also about talent to compliment his abilities. He now has that in abundance. Every where you turn the Oilers have stocked the talent shelves with more and more players who fit into how Hemsky likes to play the game. He does it at a level that still might put him in first place if the Oilers top talent had their own little skills competition. Edmonton isn't short in that department, but despite the addition of Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov, Hemsky might continue to be the club's most talented player.
Considering the names I just rattled off, that's saying a lot. You might disagree in who the Oilers' most skilled player is, but you have to at least mention Hemsky in the conversation.
Edmonton made it clear last week that the future of the Oilers is planted in the presentation of the newest assistant captains. Basically a three for two trade: Hall and Eberle along with Nick Schultz in, with Ryan Whitney and Hemsky out. In my opinion Edmonton did Ales a favour. He would never have gone to the club and said I don't want this 'A'. It happens in life where someone makes a decision that greatly affects you. I think not wearing a letter will allow Hemsky to concentrate on his game and himself. I don't want to make this sound like a selfish point, but he won't have too worry about people looking at his letter and expecting him to do or say something simply because of the 'A' on his jersey. Instead, he can pick his spots if and when he feels something extra is needed from him.
Whether he's ready for it or not, Ales Hemsky has become a mentor. This summer he'll be 30 years old. He needs to show these kids the way and especially the one on his line and sitting next to him in the room. Already I have seen him spend a lot of time talking, pointing, explaining things to Nail Yakupov. Understanding that Nail is now what Ales once was. With his god-given gifts and the gift of gab, the right-winger has a real chance to make a difference. I think he understands that.
For years he was a one man band. A bundle of talent who felt like he had to do more with less around him. Now it's the opposite with more people around him who can play he is expected to do less. I think for someone who is quiet, reserved and prefers to give away the spotlight it's the perfect scenario. This may be a short season but it's going to a long way in Ales Hemsky becoming the player he was expected to be and now finally can be in Edmonton
Author: Gene Principe
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