SUN Hockey Pool

The heart & soul

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:06 AM ET

As scarred up and scuffed as it might be, his is the face of the Edmonton Oilers.

That would be Ryan Smyth, who has earned every battle scar and lost every tooth playing hockey the old-fashioned way, and in Oilers silks for every one of the 717 NHL games he's toiled in with so much gusto.

And, while much of the talk about this edition of the Oilers is about all the promising kids and talented newcomers dotting the lineup of the 2006 Stanley Cup finalists, the mulleted marvel wearing No. 94 will carry on just as he always has.

Simply put, you'll find Smyth, the longest-serving Oiler, doing the dirty work in the corners, tangling with defencemen, tormenting opposing goaltenders by plunking his stubborn backside in the blue paint and, of course, leading the NHL in goals scored from inside four feet.

The only way he knows how.

"I'm ready to get going," says Smyth, who'll move into fifth-place in career games played as an Oiler when he surpasses Jari Kurri's 754 games. "The shorter the summer, the better."

With his 30th birthday fast approaching, Smyth is coming off a season in which he scored 36 goals and added 30 assists in 75 games. Those numbers pushed the former Moose Jaw Warrior into seventh place in Oilers career scoring with 496 points.

IN HIS PRIME

If that's not proof enough Smyth's still got enough game to show hotshot kids like Ales Hemsky, Joffrey Lupul and Jarret Stoll a thing or two, he added 7-9-16 in 24 playoff games during last spring's unlikely march to a Game 7 date with the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup final.

"I've still got a lot to give," said Smyth, who came within three goals of his career-high of 39. "I'm just 30 and this is my prime.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself to score. I want to maintain what I've shown I can do. That's what veterans are expected to do. I'd like to stay in that area, but I don't set exact goals. I want to put the puck in the net in every game I play."

That playoff stretch, you might remember, included the night Smyth left three teeth and a pool of blood on the ice when hit by a Chris Pronger clearing attempt, then went and got stitched up and returned to set up the winning goal in triple-overtime by Shawn Horcoff against San Jose.

Smyth still smiles when he talks about it - going deeper into the playoffs than he'd ever been and coming within one win of a Stanley Cup - not the teeth he left on the freeze.

"Obviously, it was an exciting year for everybody," said Smyth, who'll start this season on left wing on a line with Horcoff and Lupul. "We found a way to come together as a team and get to another level."

The way Smyth sees it, last spring's ride to within a sniff of a sip can't do anything but make the players who experienced it, including himself, better this time around.

LEADING BY EXAMPLE

"I learned so much from the guys that were here. A guy like Michael Peca and, obviously, Pronger," he said. "It's just how you carry yourself. The focus you need to be at the top of your game. I feel it's up to me to pass those kinds of things onto some of the guys who are coming up and haven't been around as long."

Smyth, as always, intends to lead by example. Given the rules instituted at the start of the 2005-06 season to open up the game, he'll get the opportunity because the changes put in place play right to his crease-crashing strengths.

"The game changed a tremendous amount with rules," Smyth said. "There's still the battling in front of the net, but there's not the relentless holding and huge crosschecks that wear on you after awhile.

"You've got a little more time and room to move around in there. You know me. That's where I'll be."


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