Gilbert still searching for recognition

DEREK VAN DIEST

, Last Updated: 7:05 PM ET

Tom Gilbert set a team record for most goals by a rookie defenceman in his first year.

He then collected a career-high 45 points in his second year.

Heading into Year 3, the Minneapolis native is looking to establish himself as an effective and consistent offensive threat from the blue line.

“I’m really excited about the season,” Gilbert said following practice at Millennium Place yesterday. “I think we needed a bit of a change, and now we have a new look in terms of systems and overall team play. It’s pretty exciting. We have the same personnel and I think we all know what it takes to win, we just have to be more disciplined this year.

“But we have no excuses now. People were blaming the coaching staff last year, but that definitely wasn’t it. Getting new coaches is just like a new start. We just get to go out there, run new systems and take another stab at it.”

Gilbert, 26, was the Oilers second most productive defenceman last season behind Sheldon Souray. He finished the season with five goals and 40 assists. In his rookie season, Gilbert scored 13 goals and had 20 assists.

He’ll be in the lineup when the Oilers host the Calgary Flames at Rexall in their sixth exhibition game of the pre-season.

“He’s only played in two (pre-season) games, but you can see his skill level,” said Oilers head coach Pat Quinn. “He’s still a pretty young guy so I’m still open-minded. I still haven’t seen all that he’s got yet, but we look to take advantage of the skill level at the back end that we have.”

Gilbert scored a goal in the Oilers first pre-season game of the year against the Flames and also has two assists to show for his efforts so far.

Originally drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in the fourth round — 129 overall — in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Gilbert was acquired by the Oilers in a trade that sent goaltender Tommy Salo the other way.

He had a brief stint with the Oilers in 2007, before joining the team on a fulltime basis the following year.

Last season, Gilbert saw a reduction in his first-line power play time due to Souray’s return from shoulder surgery and the acquisition of Lubomir Visnovsky, yet was still able to provide strong offensive support in secondary role.

Gilbert’s expected to play a similar role this season and feels a lot more comfortable heading into year.

“You never stop learning even at this level, which is the best part about it,” Gilbert said. “It’s just that comfort level of going out on the ice, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing now, even if it’s stars like (Sidney) Crosby or (Alexander) Ovechkin, it doesn’t matter, you know what you’re

going to get ever single night and you know what you have to do to go out there and be successful.”

It’s been a long summer for the former University of Wisconsin standout.

Gilbert was asked to play for Team U.S.A. at the World Hockey championships following the season, but was forced to pass do to a sore back.

“It was a little disappointing, but time off was definitely something I needed,” he said. “It was beneficial for my back to take some time off. But it has been a long summer, that was the downfall of everything, it seemed like summer was never going to end.”

Unlike all the questions and decisions the Oilers have to make with their forward group, the team’s blue line is pretty much set with all seven defenceman coming back from last season.

The mobility of the team’s blue line is considered one of their strengths heading into the year.

“We’re not a rock’em, sock’em group back there,” Quinn said. “So we’re going to have to make sure we’re good at getting back, getting the puck, and getting up to our forwards.”


Photos