SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers' Gilbert excited for new season

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:38 PM ET

For Tom Gilbert, the summer was too long.

Not having played a game since April, the Edmonton Oilers defenceman is looking forward to getting back to work.

The Oilers open training camp on Sept. 17. In preparation for the season, Gilbert has been skating at Perry Pearn's three-on-three camp this week.

"It was a great summer for me, I spent a lot of time here and I spent a lot of time in Madison, Wis., and I'm ready for the season to get started. It's been way too long," Gilbert said. "From what I've seen so far this year, it's been nothing but positive. The training staff has been great, they're easy to talk to and it seems like they've been there forever.

"The coaching staff speaks for themselves. They've all had success where they've been before. I'm definitely looking forward to that."

The team the Oilers put on the ice this season will bear little resemblance to the one that stumbled through the campaign last year.

The Oilers will have a much younger lineup, led by first overall pick Taylor Hall and fellow first-rounders Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi.

"We have some young guys coming in and it's exciting," Gilbert said. "It's exciting to see what those kids can do, regardless if they make the team or not, and I'm looking forward to getting on the ice with them."

Heading into his fourth season, Gilbert, 27, is considered to be one of the team's veterans and is expected to fill in a leadership capacity.

It's likely the native of Bloomington, Minn., will start the year on the Oilers top defensive pairing with Ryan Whitney.

"You never think being 27 would be considered that old," Gilbert said. "But with the players we have coming in, a leadership role is definitely a role that I want to get into to."

A former fourth-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche, Gilbert is all too familiar with the challenges the NHL presents to rookies.

"This league, it doesn't matter how much skill you have," he said. "It's a tough league to play in, it's a tough league to get points, and it's a tough league to take the body on guys, block shots and make passes. It's a tough league to adjust to."

Gilbert also broke into the league with a talented crop of youngsters who were expected to take the Oilers to the playoffs and beyond.

Unfortunately, things never worked out according to plan.

"I know our team two years ago, we had nothing but high hopes going in and it turned out to be a disappointing season. Last year was definitely disappointing," he said. "You can't worry about the hype too much. We have to get those young guys coming in and we have to develop them as best we can, get them adjusted to the game as fast as we can and don't push too much."

Having finished last in the league standings, the Oilers decided to blow up their squad and start fresh this year.

Gilbert is expected to be one of the key building blocks going forward.

"We have to start somewhere," he said. "We were rock bottom last year and we had to find something to give our team some kind of picture of how we want to play. We're going in the direction that they want to erase everything and start everything new. They wanted young guys to come on in, and a lot of times, that provides a lot of energy."

How the young players perform at the highest level is the most pressing question heading into the season.

There's reason for optimism, but it has to be tempered with realistic expectations.

"We don't have any expectations, we just want to go out there and try to build a team from the beginning of the year on to however long it takes,"

Gilbert said. "We just want to keep getting better and better with every game we play."


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