The crisp air of September is upon us, which means that training camp is right behind the corner. Five weeks remain until the dawn of a new season. Youth will clash with experience during camp. There will be expected entrants, role players, surprises and close calls.
And there will be heartbreak.
At the beginning of October, Edmonton’s best will come forward to take the ice.
So who is going to captain this ship?
Take a look at some of the great captains around the NHL, past and present. We’re fresh out of Gretzkys and Messiers, and we ran out of Jason Smiths a few years ago.
Do the Oilers have any Sakics? No.
How about Yzermans? Don’t even bother. They don’t even have any Danny Gares or Neal Brotens.
Captaincy is a funny thing. Too often, captaincy is given to the most offensively gifted player, regardless of his leadership capabilities. I’ll go off on a limb here and say that Teemu Selanne was the Winnipeg Jets’ best player on the ice during the 92-93 season, but I don’t think anyone was ready to stitch a C next to his left shoulder. This isn’t to say that sometimes a truly offensive-minded player is an obvious choice (99), but in post-dynasty Edmonton, this seldom has been the case.
The leadership of Jason Smith is (to me at least) the epitome of the post-dynasty Oilers – all grit, all passion, twenty five hours a day. I can’t think of a minute where Smith coasted into the corners, or dogged it up ice. The man captained two squads in his career. How many defencemen can say that?
Who should wear the C in this year’s group? And none of this “rotating captaincy” thing. That didn’t work when Joe Sakic and Steven Finn did it some 20 years ago, it won’t work here.
For my money, it’s Ryan Whitney.
Whitney has only been an Oiler since the 2010 trade deadline, and that’s one of the reasons that I like him as a candidate for captaincy – he’s still a relative newcomer. And, it’s a pretty safe bet that while Whitney won’t likely get out there and score 20 goals, he’s definitely a gamer, and he’s got a lot of things about him that would make him a pretty good candidate for the captaincy. He’s an above-average puck mover, and he’s got solid hockey sense.
Ryan Whitney led the team with 26 minutes of ice time in the first game he played in after becoming an Oiler. From the dozen and a half games I watched him in Edmonton, he was a pretty big jolt to a team that needed a gifted defenceman with a physical edge who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty.
Whitney is 27, an age where I think should be an unwritten minimum requirement to hold captaincy in today’s NHL. The very young should feed off of his experience, while Whitney’s defencive pairings can breathe easy knowing they have a confident set of hands on the other side.
Given the proper opportunity, Whitney could prospectively captain this Oiler squad well into this coming decade. When camp opens, he should get every opportunity to prove it.