Smyth's injury gives Rita his chance

Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Smyth skates during training camp at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alta., on...

Edmonton Oilers' Ryan Smyth skates during training camp at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alta., on Tuesday September 13, 2005. (SUN/Darryl Dyck)

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 1:03 PM ET

ANAHEIM -- Jani Rita's big chance could last two games or it could last two weeks or more.

Either way, it begins tonight against the Anaheim Mighty Ducks when Rita goes from the press box to left wing on the Edmonton Oilers top line with Shawn Horcoff and Radek Dvorak.

With Ryan Smyth out indefinitely with a sprained MCL of the left knee after a hit by Bryan Allen in the first period of Saturday's 4-3 shootout win over Vancouver, Rita gets his chance to shine.

"I think it's the perfect situation for him," coach Craig MacTavish said.

"As an organization, we have to know if he's capable of playing there. Otherwise, we've got to do something else."

Rita, 24, who had a solid training camp in what was seen as a make-or-break pre-season for the Oilers first-round draft pick in 1999, will play the 16th NHL game of his career tonight. None of those on his resume have included first-line ice time. This is his shot.

"I'm pretty excited about this chance," Rita said. "Everybody knows I'm not Ryan Smyth, but when you're moved to the first line, you've got to show something.

"I feel comfortable I can play the role and make something happen. Horcoff and Dvorak have great speed and my asset is speed and skating power. All three of us are good skaters."

MacTavish isn't certain how long Smyth will be on the shelf - there's been no definitive word from team medical staff - but he could be out as long as a month.

Rita will get every chance to show his stuff in Smyth's place.

"It's a situation where we're putting him in a role where we think he can handle it," MacTavish said. "If he comes in and is really driven to succeed in that position, we won't see the kind of drop-off you would think.

"He's not going to be Ryan, but I think at this stage in his career, he's got enough experience he can come in there on a short-term basis and give us some good minutes."


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