SUN Hockey Pool

Clearance for 94

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:11 AM ET

Ryan Smyth has been medically cleared to play.

Whether or not he'll suit up tomorrow when the Edmonton Oilers host the Los Angeles Kings, however, has yet to be determined.

"You feel hungry, you want to be out there and you want to be a part of it and contribute badly," Smyth said.

"But you don't want to get out there and set yourself back, and that's what I fear probably the most.

"I know if it was a desperate situation I'd probably play through it. But I don't want to be hampering the team or getting hit again and knocking myself out for a couple or three weeks again."

Smyth broke his right thumb against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Dec. 2 when he slammed it into the end boards early in the contest.

So far, he's sat out 10 games.

"There have been a lot of different injuries over the years that I've gone through, but this is totally different," Smyth said.

"I can skate, I can do all the big things, but not the little things with my stick. Obviously with the stick the most important things are getting the puck out of your own zone or getting the puck to the net.

"I don't want to deviate from my game at all. I don't want to hamper the team any bit. If I come back I want to be 100%."

PLASTIC CAST

Yesterday Smyth practised with the Oilers as they returned to the ice from their two-day Christmas break.

He wore a specially designed plastic cast to protect the thumb and was able to take part in all the drills.

"I'm okay with my wrist, but grabbing the stick is tough," he said.

"It's a little weaker in different areas of holding the stick. It's just a matter of trying to find that grip."

Smyth is renowned for coming back from injuries earlier than expected. If he can find a way to be effective, it's almost a given he'll be back sooner than later.

Yet the Oilers are not prepared to mortgage the future in order to bring back their star winger early.

"I really want to be patient here," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.

"We'll see how he is (today). If he comes through it okay when we get into some battling, see how he handles getting jammed up a little bit and then we'll make the call."

LIGHTER STICK

For now Smyth is using a lighter stick than he's used to and is having some difficulty making the plays along the boards and in front of the net which make him so effective.

Smyth was on a roll prior to getting hurt with 16 goals and six assists in 25 games.

He still leads the team in goals despite being out for the last three weeks.

"There are some things I can do, there's no question," Smyth said. "But my strengths are in front of the net, along the wall and, obviously, the play-making in the neutral zone.

"You don't want any turnovers and that's where I feel at times I don't have that strength right now.

"It's not a question of can I play? I can play, but you don't want to jeopardize the team."

Ultimately the decision to play will rest on Smyth. However, according to MacTavish it'll be a collaborative effort between the coaches, doctors, training staff and the veteran forward.

"He's dealt with so many injuries and I think at times we've made mistakes getting him back too soon," MacTavish said.

"I think he recognizes that and like anything else you try and learn from those experiences.

"We have some healthy bodies here and we can afford to be patient because we have some depth."


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