Tom Gilbert returns to Edmonton for the first time as a member of the Minnesota Wild
Photo by Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images
EDMONTON - Tom Gilbert laughed at the idea when Hall of Fame writer Jim Matheson suggested he'd earned a pre-game ceremony or video montage celebrating his past as an Edmonton Oiler.
"Which 10 (highlights) would they pick out is the question," he said. "I don't even know if they could come up with that many."
The 30-year-old defenceman spent six seasons in Edmonton, posting 33 goals and 158 points in 384 career games as an Oiler. After being dealt to the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 27, 2012 in a surprise deadline-day deal that sent stay-at-home rearguard Nick Schultz to the Oilers, Gilbert will be making his first appearance at Rexall Place in nearly a calendar year when the Oilers and Wild face off on Thursday night.
Due some quirks in last season's schedule and the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, this will be the first time the Oilers and Wild have met in 420 days (their last meeting came on Dec. 29, 2011).
"It's nice to be back," said Gilbert after a brisk mid-afternoon practice in his old stomping grounds. "I've had plenty of time to think about it. It's been quite a while and the lockout obviously made it a lot longer. I was here for a long time and I have nothing but great memories.
"It came as a bit of a surprise. Usually the media does a pretty good job of catching the rumours and some guys' names that might be considered in trades. For me, I had no idea and it didn't even cross my mind. When it happened, it was a big surprise.
"When you look at the trade, I'm sure both teams got what they were looking for. Nick is a great player. I played against him for many, many years."
Gilbert, a Bloomington, MN product, says the transition to the Wild was easy enough considering birthplace and workplace were now intertwined, but it was difficult saying goodbye after having spent so long honing his craft in Oil Country.
"It was nice to see a lot of familiar faces (Tuesday)," he said, looking back on the days when he was part of the Three Amigos, which consisted of himself, Andrew Cogliano and the Oilers' current leading-scorer all living together as they got their starts in the NHL.
"I saw Sam (Gagner) before I went on the ice and chatted him up a little bit. He's the one guy I can't wait to play against. Ladislav Smid, too. I know he likes to run his mouth a lot, so I hope I'm in the corner one time with him. It'll be a fun game playing against the guys I played with for six years.
"Getting traded is a weird feeling. You have to say goodbye to everyone in the spur of the moment because you've basically got to pick up and go right away. It's not an easy thing to do, but it's part of the business. Honestly, it didn't even register in my brain for a little bit. (Oilers GM Steve Tambellini) gave me a nice phone call, said I'd been traded to Minnesota, he thanked me and wished me luck."
Before the trade, both Gilbert and Schultz had spent their entire careers with the Oilers and Wild. In fact, Schultz still leads Minnesota in career games played after suiting up in 743 regular-season contests with the Wild. The Strasbourg, SK native has brought defensive stability to the Oilers, while Gilbert has been an injection of offensive dimension for the Wild.
During the 2007-08 season, Gilbert set a new Oilers franchise record for goals among rookie defencemen, surpassing Paul Coffey and Marc-Andre Bergeron when he tallied 13. The following year, he scored only five but set a career-high in points with 45 in 82 games.
So far in 2012-13, Gilbert has recorded three goals and seven points in 15 games.
Memories aside, Gilbert can't wait for puck drop. While the Oilers will deploy the likes of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov and others, the Wild will counter with summertime acquisitions Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu.
It's nothing like the Oilers-Wild meetings of old.
"The League has changed a little bit," said Gilbert. "There are a lot of younger guys and they've all proven themselves to be great players already, which is scary as an older guy. You see these 19- and 20-year-olds coming into the League and doing things that you're shocked to see.
"Both teams have that. It's fun to watch and be a part of."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick