With the Khabibulin case casting a huge shadow over all things Oilers, it’s good to hear some positivity out there, and this positivity comes from none other than Ales Hemsky. But he also has a bit of a word of caution as well for fans.
Jim Matheson writes of Ales Hemsky quelling unreachable expectations by fans for the young players on this team. “Everybody is expecting they (the rookies) are going to light it up, but they don’t have to be perfect,” said Hemsky. “People expect 80 or 90 points, but it’s not easy in this league. People have to realize that. They will be good. Looking back, I don’t think I was ready when I was 19 or 20, physically or mentally, but everybody is different.”
I agree with Hemsky on this, and I’ve been saying it all along. Very few players explode into the league like Ovechkin, Malkin and Crosby. Expect there to be some growing pains with each of these guys, just like there has been with Gagner and Cogliano. I don’t want to get into that argument too much, but it is pretty disconcerting that some people out there have already thrown out the possibility that Gagner will be our #1C (to that, I say, prepare to hold on to your seat this season).
At any rate, fan expectation needs to be reasonable. It is one thing to hope for these guys to score 70, 60, 50, or even just 40 points. But it’s another thing to actually expect these players to do it. There are far more cases for players that took a while to break out than there are for players that had huge seasons their first year in the league. 2009-10 league points-leader and Hart Trophy Winner Henrik Sedin barely broke 40 points after 4 full years in the league. Eric Staal only had 31 points in his first NHL season, and spent the following (full) year in the AHL. The 3rd pro-year he unloaded with 45 goals and 100 points, however. Jason Spezza experienced a somewhat similar development path. He played about a season and a half with the Senators and was sent down to Binghamton after seemingly succumbing to immense fan pressure (*). The year in the minors did him some good, as he came back with a huge 90 point season in just 68 NHL games.
So Oilers fans, I plead you not to set the bar low, but to simply remember that it takes time to develop players. And as such, if and when any or all of these guys have a rough start/finish next season, don’t abandon hope. It isn’t necessarily going to be an easy road for any of these guys. But I do believe they will get there. That may even mean some extended time in the AHL (or OHL for Hall.. although I think they will keep him up here) for some of them. And I do also believe (as mentioned many times) that Gagner will also be one of those guys that get there (frankly, I think he’ll take a big step this year).
One more thing from the article I really liked is that Hemsky has heard some good things about Magnus Paajarvi (imagine several dots all over his name). “I think Paajarvi has the advantage because he has played against men in a league in Sweden. He should be ready,” said Hemsky. “I have a couple of friends who’ve played with him and they think he’s really good.” Hemsky continues to glow about Hall and Eberle as well. I suggest reading the rest of the Journal article linked above. There’s some good stuff in there.
* – as Steve-O noted in the comment section, both Staal and Spezza played in the AHL during the lockout year, although I think too that Spezza in particular struggled with fan expectation after his first full year.