For those of you who can't get enough of anything and everything Ryan Smyth, and really who can get enough of that guy; Smyth addressed the press yesterday as an Edmonton Oiler with Oilers' GM Steve Tambellini. Smyth's hair is a little shorter, he's a little older, but there were no tears this time and talk was mainly to the future, not so much to the past. Smyth sees a bright future with the Oilers, their young developing players and of course their prospects in the system. Smyth is "thrilled to be back" and eager to start out where he left off. There are few things that are missing from Smyth's career with the Oilers, but the gaping hole is of course the Stanley Cup. Smyth has only one year left on his contact and I think that none of us here are honestly expecting the Stanley Cup this year for the Oilers, so we can't help but get ahead of ourselves and continue to imagine Smyth in the line-up for years to come.
There is one other note that Oilers' fans aren't likely to forget throughout the season, Smyth is a mere 28 points behind Doug Weight for career Oilers points. In a healthy season, playing his game there is little doubt that Smyth can accumulate at least that many points.
"Never thought this day would come." And neither did we. That was Smyth leaving Edmonton and speaking from the Edmonton International Airport, all because on trade deadline day, Mark Messier retirement night of 2007. But he could have said the same thing about his return to where it all started, to his home in Edmonton.
The trade, the tears of sorrow and the anger that followed are all behind us, and soon to be forgotten because "Coming back as an Oiler, is something I've wanted for a long time." So have we Ryan, I can call you Ryan right? Being an Oilers' fan of late means being used to or at least putting up with disappointment and holding onto your broken dreams, and this lesson really hit home for me on the day they traded Smyth. It's impossible to count how many times it would have been nice to have Smyth in the line-up, but maybe all of that wishing and hoping that happened in Oil Country has finally added up and amounted to something. Maybe Smyth heard us. "Coming back as an Oiler is, I think if you cut me open I'd probably bleed blue." He's still the same in so many ways, and so like us.
We all see that Smyth is a little older, but he certainly won't let on that he feels that way. "I feel I'm still young. I think I have experience I've gained and lessons I've learned that I can pass on to the young players as maybe a bit of a mentor and I think I can tap into their youthful exuberance and energy to help me." At the same time however I think that most people see that Smyth was brought in to help the young players more than anything. Tambellini said "You know Ryan is going to be there every night. I know that he's going to scratch and claw for every minute of ice time and to compete against our young guys. That's what you want. You want people that are pushing people for the right reasons for more ice time, for the biggest situations. That's what I want our young guys to see." This is the situation Smyth came to the Oilers with, it's only fitting that he pay it forward. There is also little doubt that Smyth will feel as though he has been away, and will be filled with nostalgia not only for the team, but also when seeing the young players cutting their teeth in the NHL.
"I can't think of a better fit as far as timing for what we have with group of young people that need not only good players with them, and Ryan is a good player, but also we need people that can help with the team development." It hasn't escaped most fans that this rebuild cannot only happen with youth, that eventually there will need to be some veteran leadership and skill added as well. Seems that that time may be now, UFAs are willing to sign with the Oilers now, Smyth couldn't wait to get home. It seems as though the rest of the league may be taking notice of the Oilers, that the jokes about a 30th place team may be due to the look of the future as well as the fact that it is easy to make fun of a 30th place team. It's clear that not all of the pieces are in place, and there is very little doubt that trade attempts are still ongoing. Oilers fans should be expecting at least one more trade before the start of the season.
Smyth has had the opportunity to play against some of the young Oilers, this may just add to his ability to try to help mentor the youth. If he has played against them, he may have slightly different insights than teammates. "Taylor [Hall]'s experienced a tremendous amount in one year." Smyth said of Hall's first full NHL season, even including his first substantial NHL injury. "To play against him and seeing him on highlights, I like how tenacious Taylor is. If he loses the puck, he wants it back." Smyth may play a different role and a different game, but even players like Hall are likely to listen when Smyth speaks. He has the love of the fans, and a lot of points through his NHL career. Hall is represented by Bobby Orr, this may just be coincidence, but I bet Hall takes any opportunity he can to discuss hockey with that legend.
"The respect he has for the game and the respect he has for being an Oiler is going to go a long way with these young players. We're in the second year of integrating very skilled, young players into our lineup and I can't think of a better person to show these talented young men how to play at a high level, and what it means to play in Edmonton. I'm so looking forward to seeing you play that first game Ryan." Says Tambellini, and of course the sentiments are felt by all. I don't think that there will be an empty seat in the house when Ryan Smyth plays his first home game in October. There may not even by a dry eye. If seats are hard to come by for jersey retirement nights, how about long awaited home comings?
"I think that once the season gets going and you see the energy in this building, the energy in this city of hockey fever going to be a tremendous year." Most Oilers fans can see and agree with not only that but also with Steve Tambellini when he said "I always looked at Ryan as being an Oiler. Even when he was playing other places."