It’s hard to get a real grip on how good a team is when they steamroll an opponent the way Edmonton did against Nashville Monday night, but for the Oilers faithful, two goals from enforcer Zack Stortini was a definite bonus.
And while Stortini was no doubt given the playful gears from his teammates after the game for his unexpected offensive contributions, there’s another young Oilers player I had my eye on during the game – defenseman Tom Gilbert.
True, Gilbert has just one point in his first five contests this season, but the Minnesota native has already caught the eye of Team USA’s Olympic braintrust and I’m starting to see why.
The key to Gilbert is the fact he is still on his way up. The University of Wisconsin alum had 33 points in his first full NHL season with the Oilers and 45 last year, including an astounding 40 assists. With size (6-foot-3, 206 pounds) and a heavy point shot, Gilbert is the type of building block the Oilers are surely glad to have. The present on defense may still be Sheldon Souray and Lubomir Visnovsky, but the very near future is surely Gilbert and Denis Grebeshkov.
The fact Souray and Visnovsky are in Edmonton to mentor the youngsters is great for transitioning purposes; Gilbert is great, but he will be better. In the win against Nashville, he didn’t always get the puck out of the zone on first attempt, but his rushes into the offensive zone were very impressive.
Using his size, Gilbert was able to muscle Preds right winger Joel Ward off the puck in the defensive zone in the first period and Ward, at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, is no pushover. Gilbert also got power play time and unleashed a couple of cannon shots from the point, but they didn’t find the mark.
Once the 26-year-old irons out the highs and lows, he will be that rare all-around defensive gem. Gilbert is logging the second-most amount of ice time on the Oilers right now (22:43 per game, just seconds behind Grebeshkov), but still doesn’t have to worry about the spotlight just yet. If he keeps growing as a player, that spotlight will become brighter sooner than later.
This article also appeared in the Edmonton Metro newspaper.