SUN Hockey Pool

Does Jason still have jump?

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:08 AM ET

Ask Jason Bonsignore if he'd be willing to cross the NHLPA picket line and lace up as a replacement player and there isn't a moment's hesitation.

Bob Goodenow's locked-out troops messed with his career and earning potential when they stormed the beaches in Europe, so why should he feel guilty about doing the same to them?

"I didn't really think I'd be playing in the minor leagues over here again," said Bonsignore, a former first-round pick of the Edmonton Oilers (fourth overall in 1994), who just signed on with the East Coast Hockey League's Las Vegas Wranglers.

"Things went really well last year in Switzerland and I had kind of resigned myself to the fact I was going to stay over there for the rest of my career, but now with the lockout, (NHL players) are taking up the real high-dollar jobs over there.

"It's been really frustrating for guys like myself who would have been in line for some of the high-paying jobs. Now we're getting the short end of the stick."

So he has no problem turning the tables if the NHL ever puts the "Help Wanted" sign out for replacement players.

"Oh yeah, definitely," said the 28-year-old centre. "If the NHL came calling I'd have to do it - for financial reasons and for the sake of being able to show everybody what I can do. I'd want to do it, sure."

CROSSING PICKET LINE

Bonsignore will never make good on the expectations that made him the highest draft pick in Oilers' history, but if walking across a picket line gives him a final chance to prove he isn't a total bust, he wouldn't even break stride.

"It kind of eats away at me a little bit," he said of his unfulfilled potential. "I'd like to have one more shot at the NHL. I went to Switzerland and felt really good, the best I've felt in a long time. If I could get one more crack at it I could make a really good showing - now is probably the perfect time to do it."

This isn't how his career was supposed to turn out - 79 NHL games since he turned pro 11 years ago, walking away for two seasons due to burnout, unseated in Europe, three leagues deep in the minors, trying to get a foot in the door at 28. But almost from the moment Edmonton picked him it's been downhill. Accused of lacking the heart and commitment to be an NHL impact player, he's been wearing the Scarlet U - for underachiever - ever since.

He admits a lot of it was his fault.

"I certainly was to blame for not being sound enough defensively and not being well conditioned enough," he said. "But for an 18 or-19-year-old who went through junior hockey a star and had those things come fairly easy to him, it's not something you really had to work that hard at. You don't realize how hard you have to work at it until you get to the NHL level.

NOT GIVEN A CHANCE

"But I also don't really think I was given that much of a chance when I got to Edmonton. I made a lot of my own mistakes along the way, but some of those other (slow starters), their teams stuck with them, Jeff O'Neill and Radek Bonk, and they turned out great. I'm not saying I would have, but I just wasn't given much of an opportunity."

It doesn't help his case that he didn't win over the brass in Toronto, Atlanta, Tampa and Phoenix, either, but that doesn't mean he can't pull an Alexandre Daigle, who came back from an almost identical story: (picked first overall in 1933, suffered early failure, bounced from team to team, walked away from the game and reinvented himself 10 years later).

"I played with Alex, we kind of talked about that stuff a little bit," said Bonsignore. "He was getting frustrated with some of the same things I did and needed some time away from the game.

"But people were always willing to give him a second or third chance and he's done really well with it. I'd like one more chance at the NHL, too, because I think I could do a good job with it."

It's not out of the realm of possibility, says Vegas coach and GM Glen Gulutzan.

"The clock is ticking, but guys are in phenomenal shape now and can play well into their 30s, so they do have time to reinvent themselves if they're dedicated," he said.

"You never know what's going to happen in the hockey world, but whether it's trying to get back to the NHL or getting a good job in Europe, the road he has to take starts here."


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