When the Edmonton Oilers kick off their regular season on October 1st against the Winnipeg Jets, it is quite possible that Ryan Smyth could be entering his final season with the team that has always had his heart. A veteran of 17 NHL seasons, twelve and a half with the Oilers, Smyth has bled copper and blue since the day he was drafted, way back in 1994.
When the Oilers boldly traded Smyth to the New York Islanders on February 27, 2007, many say that was the day the Oilers lost their heart, their soul and their identity. It’s also around the same time the Oilers went from bad to worse and have only now begun to reconstruct their roster to help beg for some credibility around the league.
Smyth has always been an Oiler, no matter where he was playing, but if last year was any indication, it’s difficult to place Smyth on this year’s roster in Edmonton. All this leading to the question, where does Ryan Smyth fit with this year’s Edmonton Oilers?
Aside from some line juggling, the top six forwards are all but locked down in Edmonton. Ales Hemsky will threaten for a top six spot but with a healthy roster, even the flashy veteran will be positioned on the third line.
If the Oilers, more specifically GM Craig MacTavish choose to develop their third line into that of a scoring one, adding depth to the first two, Smyth may not get his shot to prove he belongs there. This scenario depends on if the Oilers add a third line center known more for his hands than his grittiness, unlike that of Boyd Gordon who is currently penciled as the third center on the depth charts.
Even if the Oilers stay with Gordon on the third line, Smyth may be hard pressed to fill that grinder role. Last season his foot speed was evidently a step behind and at times it cost him a battle for a loose puck; something that could be the difference in a one-goal hockey game.
It’s hard to say how much of an impact the lockout had on veterans like Smyth. He chose not to head overseas to play and keep his skills sharp, rather staying in Edmonton and skating in practice like atmospheres.
His offensive numbers from last season don’t begin to reflect the type of career that Smyth has had up until now. Just 2 goals and 11 assists in 47 games to go with a minus-5 rating. Projecting that over a full 82-game schedule and Smyth would have only scored 4 times all season. Not exactly worth of third line status.
He’s 37-years old and his best days are clearly behind him. Not to mention what effect an 82-game schedule might have his body.
It’s a young man’s game in the NHL and Smyth, despite bringing plenty of veteran leadership has to see the writing on the wall. Entering the final year of his contract that’ll pay him $2.25 million, Smyth will likely be destined for a fourth line role with the Oilers, alongside the likes of Ben Eager, Linus Omark, Ryan Jones, Mike Brown and Jesse Jonesuu. Yes, that’s more than three forwards that make up the line, meaning Smyth will have his work cut out for him if he hopes to be a regular in the lineup come October.
Smyth recently told the media that he’s willing to do whatever is needed of him to help the Oilers win. Even if it means a spot on the fourth line that has more of a character role to it, Smyth just wants to be in Edmonton, a place that has always loved and adored number 94.
Where do you think Ryan Smyth will play this season with the Oilers? Leave your comments below and let’s discuss.