Oilers right-winger is one of NHL's most creative puckhandlers, his skills are magical -- but key element is missing from his game
John Mackinnon, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Thursday, February 22, 2007
Might as well face it, I'm addicted to Ales Hemsky.
Who can resist? The Edmonton Oilers right-winger is fast, physical without being dirty, he plays hurt, he's self-effacing, as good a passer as you can find in the NHL and among its most creative puckhandlers. Something else -- his brilliance seems effortless. He's a hockey genius in our midst -- a midst, it should be noted, that knows a thing or two about hockey genius.
In a word, Hemsky's skills are magical. But one word really doesn't cover them. He's also mesmerizing, jaw-dropping, spectacular, riveting, spellbinding, wondrous, thrilling, joy-inducing and give-your-head-a-shake otherworldly.
Only one element is missing from his extraordinary game and everyone in Oilerdom and their two-year-old child knows what that is. No, seriously! One of the e-mails posted on the Oilers website in frenzied response to Hemsky's two-laps-around-the-Senators-goal-withou
"Everyone at my house watching the game were screaming at the top of their lungs for Hemmer to pull the trigger. My kid is two years old and he's literally screaming, 'SHOOT THE PUCK, HEMSKY!!!' "
Listen, Hemsky, knows he should shoot more. The Oilers coaches have told him to shoot for years. His teammates tease him about it. Still he just doesn't, the numbers don't lie. There are only a few so-called NHL snipers who shoot the puck less than Hemsky, who has nine goals on 96 shots so far this season.
One of those economical shooters is Pittsburgh Penguins rookie Jordan Staal, who has 24 goals on 88 shots for a 27.3 shooting percentage, tops in the NHL.
A freak of nature, Staal is. He doesn't shoot, but he scores.
Calgary's Alex Tanguay -- maybe it's the name -- has 17 goals on 74 shots. Even San Jose Sharks rookie Ryan Clowe has managed 13 goals on a paltry 63 shots. Faceoff whiz Yanic Perreault has 18 goals on 99 shots with Phoenix and one-time Oiler Anson Carter has 10 goals on 61 shots. Shoot the puck, Anson!
These players are anomalies. Compared to Hemsky, your garden-variety NHL forward is firing away like he's got an uncontrollable nervous tic. Alex Ovechkin -- so much for the name theory -- has let 300 shots fly.
Marian Hossa has 265, Vincent Lecavalier, 238, Ilya Kovalchuk, 268, Olli Jokinen, 263, even Sidney Crosby, a passer extraordinaire (69 assists) and possibly the most held and hooked skater in the circuit, has broken free and let 'er rip 161 times.
I always thought anyone who ever laced on skates and gripped a stick is hardwired to shoot the puck when it comes your way. But not Hemsky. And still, he has 48 points in 51 games, nearly a point a game.
Still, drawn as we are to Hemsky's brilliance, it's not easy dealing with his reticence to shoot and the frustration can erode the composure of the best of us.
"Man, this is frustrating! He shares too much ... if Hemsky, who is awesome at getting to the net, would get a SHOT OFF, wow ... things would be so different!" read another posting on the Oilers bulletin board.
"Honestly, I thought Hemsky was going to take the puck behind the net on the shootout," read another.
It's easy to understand the frustration.
Imagine Guy Lafleur, in his prime, streaking up the right wing, his blond mane flying in the breeze created by his own captivating speed. Imagine him sans his laser-beam slapshot. Imagine him shooting only rarely, despite possessing a great shot?
That's Hemsky, pretty much.
Imagine Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, with all his speed and improvisational brilliance, scrambling and making NFL defenders look silly but refusing to cross the line of scrimmage, for whatever reason.
Imagine Canadian Olympic gold-medallist gymnast Kyle Shewfelt nailing every element of his routines, but consistently failing to stick the landing. That's Hemsky.
Of course, Hemsky does lots of great things for the Oilers. In that Dallas game on Jan. 4, Patrick Stefan's missed
tap-in at one end became Hemsky's game-tying masterpiece at the other in the flick of an eyelash.
It was Hemsky who finally buried the Detroit Red Wings in Round 1 of the 2006 playoffs, scoring twice in the third period to lift Edmonton to its first playoff series victory in eight years.
And how about that goal against San Jose ... well, you can peruse so many of his highlights on YouTube yourself. It's something to watch and the highlight reel is getting longer all the time.
I understand the fans' frustration but I don't share it, partly because I can see the big picture, but mostly because, like I say, I'm addicted, helpless, totally in thrall to Hemsky.
Someday, he'll shed his reluctance to shoot. Someday he'll be a goal-scoring machine. Maybe tonight against Columbus it will all come together.
Yeah, that's it. Tonight will be different, tonight he'll pull the trigger like an ice-bound Jesse James and fill the net with pucks.
Or Friday night in Detroit. Or maybe Sunday night in Minnesota.
It's only a matter of time.