There’s a lot of weight coming off right-winger Ales Hemsky’s shoulders this year and it’s not just because they are surgically repaired.
No, after several seasons of trips to the IR and watching his dazzling playmaking skills go to waste, the Czech Republic native can now look at the players surrounding him in Edmonton and smile.
Sure, the Oilers are still bringing up the rear in the Northwest Division, but at least they’re doing it in style, which should be some comfort to Hemsky.
With eight points in his first nine games, Hemsky isn’t quite on pace for his best season ever — he rang up 77 points the year of that 2005-06 Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup final — but he’s very close. Within the margin of error, for sure. And now he is protected, in an offensive sense, by swift youngsters on multiple lines.
And while Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi have all made their marks on the scoresheet, it’s that slightly older young crew that bolsters the equation. Sam Gagner, for one, is Hemsky’s centre and is back producing at a pace more in line with the rookie who dazzled Edmonton back in 2007-08.
At the NHL draft in Los Angeles this summer, I talked to former Oiler Paul Coffey, who pointed to Gagner and Andrew Cogliano as players who were due for a bump in responsibility now that they were no longer “the kids” on the team.
“I expect them to have great years,” Coffey said.
“They’re going to be the so-called veterans and they’ll need to help Hall and Eberle out. They’re not going to have that leniency of being the young guys anymore.”
A balanced attack helps Hemsky out so much, particularly since Paajarvi looks like a Hemsky-in-training with his speed and playmaking creativity.
With a good start already checked off, now the goal for Hemsky is to stay healthy, something that has eluded him for quite a while.
In fact, the smooth operator hasn’t suited up for a full 82 games his entire career, missing 10 or more games in three of the past four seasons.
If he can overcome his bad luck in that department, his true offensive ceiling will be realized this year.