Dustin Penner has easily been the Edmonton Oilers best hockey player this season. With now 13 goals and 25 points and a plus/minus +11 in 23 games, Penner has been the only shining spot in an otherwise poor season for the Oilers to date.
Hemsky, Visnovksy, and Ladislav Smid have also been good for Edmonton, but none (with the exception of Penner) have had a point in the season go by without some harsh criticism.
In fact, it wasn't just days ago that Associate Coach Tom Renney was seen giving the gears to Ales Hemsky for his lack of effort in both games and practices, relying on skill alone to help work the Oilers out of this slump.
Both Renney and Pat Quinn understand, that while skill is great and not all players possess it, skill isn't enough to win those battles, wars and ultimately hockey games that the Oilers so badly need to win.
Take Saturdays game against the Blackhawks for example. A skilled but slow starting offensive threat in Patrick O'Sullivan, caught the attention of the coaches and analysts during the CBC broadcast—and not in a good way.
Kelly Hrudey and Mike Millbury both pointed out O'Sullivan's willingness to bail on a puck pursuit in the face of a physical play. A play, that ultimately could have changed the course of a sequence for the Oilers.
Millbury went so far as to say "get him out of here. Get me Quinn's number... I'll call and tell him" in response to Hrudey's question as to whether or not you bench O'Sullivan after a play like that. Hrudey added that the style of play O'Sullivan displayed was that of a player who doesn't want to win.
Is that the team the Oilers are full of right now? Players who aren't willing to put in those extra efforts to win games?
It's possible as over the past few seasons, the Oilers have effectively removed all the "unskilled" but hard working members of their team.
Marty Reasoner was allowed to simply walk away to Atlanta. Curtis Glencross couldn't get the attention of the Oilers to renew his contract, thus he went to Calgary. Matt Greene and Jarret Stoll moved to L.A. for a skilled Visnovsky and Ryan Smyth was traded for of all people, Robert Nilsson.
With a who's who of skilled but unwilling players, where is this Oilers team going?
The upcoming draft picks are eerily similar in style to those already on this losing roster. Jordan Eberle and Magnus Svensson possess great skill, but aren't known as gritty players. The AHL team is full of offensively gifted, but smaller bodies and the only nagging injuries left on the current Oilers roster seem to be to players who work hard in an effort to make up for their lack of pure talent.
Perhaps the Oilers should be looking more towards the less talented for the answer.
Penner had a long and winding road to reach his final destination. Along the way, he was told by almost everyone he had contact with, he was a longshot. Yet, here he is and not coincidentally the Oilers number one player.
Did we expect that when he got here? Perhaps not. But, perhaps that's my point. The right direction isn't always the skilled and obvious one.