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Big question mark

Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Smyth skates during practice at Rexall Place on Wednesday, Dec. 27,...

Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Smyth skates during practice at Rexall Place on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2006. (Edmonton Sun/Tim Smith)

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:05 AM ET

His heart is willing. His thumb? Not so much.

Ryan Smyth has a history of coming back from injuries earlier than anyone expected, but the broken right thumb that's kept him out of the Edmonton Oilers' line-up for 10 games will probably keep him out for at least one more when the Los Angeles Kings come calling tonight.

MEDICAL CLEARANCE

While Smyth received medical clearance yesterday to play tonight - he was not cleared Tuesday, as had been widely reported - during a meeting with Dr. David Read after practice, the veteran left winger didn't sound confident he'll be good to go against the Kings.

"There's a possibility," Smyth said when asked if he's a definite no-go for tonight.

"I'm not going to rule it out, but, saying that, I don't want to get everybody's hopes up and also mine.

"If I feel I'm ready, I'm going to let (coach Craig) MacTavish know, but I want to make sure he feels I'm ready also."

MacTavish voiced reservations yesterday about putting Smyth, who took part in his fourth full practice since the injury occurred against Columbus Dec. 2, back into the line of fire too early.

"It's tough to play the game when you're so handicapped," MacTavish said.

"With a brace and some pain, it's really difficult. He might be the only guy you'd even consider playing in a situation like that.

"We're going to be really cautious. My sense is to err on the side of caution here and just make sure that when he gets back he's ready to be an impact player.

"It's a lot to ask him to play right now."

X-rays taken yesterday showed enough healing to prompt Dr. Reid to clear Smyth to play, but there's more to it than that. While Smyth has been fitted with a brace to take the place of the cast he'd been wearing, he's still having difficulty handling his stick.

"The player has to be the guy who feels comfortable with how he can play the game. That's the most important thing," MacTavish said.

"I want to put him into a situation where he can have success.

"I've got to be convinced he feels comfortable and he's at a level he needs to be at to come in and have a significant impact."

IT'S A STRETCH HE'LL PLAY

Smyth will skate this morning and might take the pre-game skate, but beyond that, seeing him in action seems a stretch.

"There's some things I can do out there and there's some things I can't do," he said.

"It's a matter of making sure we're being smart.

"We had a couple of two-on-two battles.

"It was a little more of a test that way. Obviously, stick handling and stuff is a little bit tougher.

"The battles, it felt not bad. At the end of practice, it gets achy."


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