SUN Hockey Pool

Strudwick's future with Oilers uncertain

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:42 PM ET

DENVER - His contribution goes well beyond the confines of a 200-by-85-foot sheet of ice.

Jason Strudwick's real value is measured away from the rink, behind dressing-room doors.

Yet, despite all he's provided for the Edmonton Oilers these past two seasons, all the advice he's offered up and all the rookies he's taken under his wing, Strudwick could be playing his final game with the club Sunday afternoon against the Colorado Avalanche.

"It's something I honestly haven't thought a lot about," Strudwick said. "It's a situation I'm very familiar with. It's something that, I think, when I first started this one-year contract run eight or nine years ago, I was a little more concerned. But at this point, you can't control a lot of it, you just have to play hard during the season and let things sort out."

As an unrestricted free agent this summer, Strudwick's future with the Oilers is uncertain.

Despite proving to be a useful utility player, able to move up and play on the wing if necessary, the local product has sat out almost as many games as he's played this year.

Yet he's not ready to close the book on a 14-year NHL career.

"I haven't thought about it, I know one thing for sure, is that I love playing hockey," Strudwick said. "My body still feels great. I have no idea what's going to happen. I've been through this so many times, so it would be weird not to go through it."

Left up to his teammates, Strudwick would be back for at least one more season.

Having arrived two years ago as a free agent from the New York Rangers, the veteran quickly endeared himself to his peers, the media and the community. He's genuinely one of the good guys in the game.

"He's a real, solid person in every way," said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. "The way he treats his teammates, the passion he brings to the game and just the wherewithal during his career and knowing everything from a players' perspective and how he shares that with everyone.

"As far as our team is concerned, especially his teammates, they embrace this guy and always want to be around him."

Strudwick's character is one of the reasons the Oilers originally signed him. His caring personality and appreciation for the game is why he was brought back for a second year.

On a team looking to mould young talent into solid professionals, there can't be enough good influences like Strudwick around.

"He's been awesome," said defenceman Theo Peckham. "My first good stint in the NHL, I was partners with him for a while and he made it so much easier. He's one of the older guys on the team and he's so approachable. He doesn't just go about his business and just leave everybody to themselves.

"He's the first guy to say 'Hi' to you in the morning, he's the first guy that will ask you if you need anything off the ice -- whether it's a ride or even a place to stay. He's the first guy that opens his doors for you. He's a true leader and it's been great having him around."

Having broken into the league with the New York Islanders, Strudwick went on to play with the Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks and Rangers before arriving in Edmonton.

The values engrained in him as a young player are the ones he's passed on to the Oilers next generation.

"My first full year in the NHL, I was lucky to have Mark Messier there (in Vancouver)," Strudwick said. "It was excellent. He just taught me how to be a professional. He always prepared the same way every game, he was getting his rest, and he would eat well and it was good to see that.

"I try to pass the same thing along, but these are smart kids. Although until you've been through it once, you really don't know."

Strudwick believes he still has, at least, a couple of years left in those 35-year-old legs. But as time catches up to him, he has an eye on perhaps an aptly suitable coaching future.

"As you get older, you start thinking about changing your job," he said. "I've always tried to watch coaches and learn, as much from the players' side as you can.

"You start understanding what the coaches are trying to achieve in a certain practice. Even the way they handle talking to the team, to individual players and to the media. These are all things you have to learn and the good coaches do them very well."

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/DerekVanDiest


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