SUN Hockey Pool

Captain comeback

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

There's a reason he was the longest serving captain in Edmonton Oiler history.

So it came as no surprise to his former teammates that Jason Smith was named captain of the Philadelphia Flyers.

"It just shows what kind of guy he is," said Oilers defenceman Steve Staios.

"He goes to a new organization, they get to know him for about 30 days, and they make him captain. It's just a natural fit, wherever he goes, he becomes the captain."

THE BIG TRADE

Smith, 33, was traded to the Flyers this summer along with Joffrey Lupul for Geoff Sanderson, defenceman Joni Pitkanen and a third-round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

The Calgary native had served as the Oilers captain since the 2001-2002 season.

Tonight (6 p.m.) at Rexall Place, both he and Lupul are back for the first and only time this season as members of the Flyers.

"It's exciting. It's going to be a lot of fun," Smith said.

"I had a lot of fun playing here and I'm sure I'll have a lot of fun (tonight)."

Smith spent just over seven seasons with the Oilers. He was acquired in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 23, 1999.

Originally, Smith was selected in the first-round - 18th overall - of the 1992 NHL Entry Draft by the New Jersey Devils.

"I'm not really sure what to expect," Smith said. "I definitely enjoyed the fans here, enjoyed every time I went on the ice. It's a great place to play and my family and I enjoyed every minute here. But I'm just looking forward to the future now."

Partnered with Kimmo Timonen on the blue line, Smith was part of a massive overhauling of the Flyers roster. Philadelphia was the worst team in the NHL last season and spent heavily to rectify that this year.

Yet despite being new to the organization, the Flyers had no qualms about giving Smith the captaincy.

"He's been terrific," said Flyers head coach John Stevens. "He's a very poised, veteran player that can play against the other team's top players.

"But outside of him as a hockey player, he's just a wonderful person. We felt that he had everything we wanted as a captain.

"He loves being at the rink, he loves the game and he just brings and air of confidence to your group by the way he carries himself."

Having spent so much time with the Oilers, Smith should be warmly received by the crowd tonight at Rexall Place.

Oilers players still have great admiration for their former captain.

"He's ingrained a legacy in the Oiler organization forever," Staios said.

"I don't think you necessarily need to win Stanley Cups to be a great, committed guy to this organization.

"He was a big part of the reason we go to the final and no one that played with him will forget him that's for sure."

FORGETTABLE

Lupul, meanwhile, is making his return after spending one forgettable season in Edmonton.

The Fort Saskatchewan product came to the Oilers as part of the Chris Pronger trade from the Anaheim Ducks.

After scoring 28 goals in his final season with Anaheim, Lupul had just 28 points last year with the Oilers.

"I'm just looking to prove something to myself and my new teammates this year," Lupul said.

"I want to go out and play a good game. Obviously last year didn't go the way I wanted it to by any stretch of the imagination. But it's over, I'm looking forward to this year."

The pressure of playing in his hometown proved a little too much last season. Like many of the Oilers, he struggled to find his game.

"I just want to get back to having some fun out there," Lupul said.

"By the end of last year it wasn't fun. I didn't enjoy playing hockey and that's something I want to get back, because I love playing hockey and it's fun to come to the rink and be around the guys.

"I want to improve a lot as a player and I think I still have a long way to go, but I feel really confident right now.


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