Ever since his 77 point season in 05-06 followed by the Edmonton Oilers magical Stanley Cup run, Oilers fans have been waiting for Ales Hemsky to take the next step and become an "elite" player by reaching the 80 point plateau. Every year, people always ask the question, "Will this be the year?"
All the signs seem to point to yes. Last year Hemsky showed flashes of absolute dominance, especially that game against Columbus on Jan 20, where he was in on all four Oilers goals, scoring two of them, including the winner. He did cool off in the final stretch though, only posting 14 points. The entire team collapsed, however, going 7-9-4 resulting in the Oilers sliding from sixth place in the Western Conference to eleventh.
Now the team hasn't really changed since last season, so why should we expect Hemsky to do any differently this season?
Well the first, and probably biggest, factor is coaching. Near the end of last season, Hemsky expressed his frustration with the coaching staff, saying he felt that he was being forced to be a checker instead of scorer. Well that coaching staff is gone and in comes Pat Quinn and Tom Renney, both of whom prefer an offensive style to the defensive style employed by Craig MacTavish.
Now that's not to say that the coaching will massively improve Hemsky, but it may give him a bit more jump to perform. We have seen the miracles a coaching change can bring about: last season the Penguins were in danger of missing the playoffs when they fired Michel Therrien and hired Dan Bylsma, and we all know how that story turned out.
Another factor for Hemsky to take the next step is his health. If he can play a full season, something he has only done once in his career, then he will have a better chance at putting up 80 points. Why? Well he has been hovering around a point per game since the lockout, posting seasons of 0.95, 0.83, 0.96 and 0.92 points per game.
The biggest thing to remember about Hemsky is that he is just turning 26 years old. Look at some of the big stars in today's NHL: Pavel Datsyuk and Vincent Lecavalier. Datsyuk did not hit a point per game until the 2005-06 season at the age of 27. Before that, he had three seasons of 0.50, 0.80, and 0.91 points per game, at the ages of 23, 24, and 25. Lecavalier did not hit a point per game until 2006-07 at the age of 26 (although he did come with 2 points of it in the 2002-03 season). Before that, he had seasons of 0.98, 0.81, and 0.94, slightly better than Hemsky.
Now I am not saying Hemsky is going to be the next Datsyuk or Lecavalier, but he definitely has the talent, and people shouldn't be so quick to write Hemsky off as a 70 point player. Some players take time to develop, such as Datsyuk and Lecavalier. Is Hemsky one of them? Or will he stagnate from this point in his career? As he enters the prime of his career this season, we will find out for sure.