SUN Hockey Pool

This corps not all a corpse

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

EDMONTON -- Not too long ago, they were considered the future of the franchise.

And after an improbable run at a playoff spot two seasons ago, that future looked extremely bright.

Yet the lustre has dimmed, and as the Edmonton Oilers wallow through their darkest days in franchise history, it'll be up to players like Sam Gagner, Tom Gilbert, Andrew Cogliano and Ladislav Smid to take them in a new direction.

"It's weird to think that we were all rookies three years ago and we were the young guys," said Gilbert. "But at this point, you have to come out of your comfort zone and understand that this team needs a lot of help and whether you're young and don't have a lot to say, or you feel as though the older guys are going to be your mentors, it's getting close to that time where you have to step up and be more of a leader on the team."

The Oilers will undoubtedly have to go through a transition phase.

The mantle has to be passed from the likes of Ethan Moreau, Shawn Horcoff, Steve Staios and Sheldon Souray to Gagner, Gilbert and the like.

They have to be the core of the team moving forward.

"The older guys on this team all have letters on their jerseys for a reason," Gilbert said. "They've been great with us, they want us to be more vocal, they want us to say things in the locker-room. They're looking for leadership from everyone, it just makes the team play so much easier.

"When you have 20 guys saying something rather than just one guy with the 'C' on his chest, it just makes things so much easier."

Nothing has come easy for the Oilers this season.

A year that started with so much promise quickly spiralled down the drain.

Never has an Oilers club been this far out of a playoff spot with this much hockey left to be played. The organization needs a new game plan and it has to revolve around their young core.

"Obviously it's time to turn things around," Gagner said. "It's our third year in the league now and we feel like we've learned a lot over that time. These last 20 games or so have been tough, but we feel like we're learning about ourselves and how we approach different things.

"Obviously we want to be guys in the future that (can be) counted upon to lead a team.

"But I think it starts now and if we can continue to get better and push forward, and take a lot of things from this season and not give up on ourselves, it's going to go a long way towards future years."

Going forward, the Oilers will eventually have to hand the leadership responsibilities to their up-and-comers.

It's not beyond the realm of possibility to see Gagner take on a captain's role. He's a leader in his own right at the moment as the second-leading scoring forward on the team. Yet, neither Gagner, nor Gilbert, nor Smid have been designated into leadership roles as of yet. Those are still occupied by veteran players.

Youth will be served soon, though.

"I think regardless of how old you are, you see teams now with young guys that have letters on their chest, young guys that are leaders and are the faces of these NHL teams," Gilbert said.

"That's the way it should be, it shouldn't matter how old you are, how many years or how many games you've played. It should matter how much you put into your team when you go on the ice, and how much you do when you're out there is a sign of being a good leader."

DEREK.VANDIEST@SUNMEDIA.CA


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