LOS ANGELES - Ryan Smyth is not accustomed to hostile receptions.
There’s not much to dislike about the Edmonton Oilers winger, who’s an honest, hard-working player that cares for the game of hockey more than anything in the world, with the exception of his family.
Ah, there’s the rub.
It was his family-first priorities that prompted Smyth to request a trade out of Los Angeles this summer, back to Edmonton where his heart lay and his loved ones felt most comfortable.
Whether Los Angeles Kings fans see it that way as Smyth makes his first trip back with the Oilers on Thursday remains to be seen.
“Obviously with the circumstances that went on, it was a personal thing and I wanted to come back,” Smyth said. “Hopefully nobody holds a grudge when it comes to making a personal decision for me and my family.”
Thursday won’t be the first time Smyth returns to face a former team, but it maybe the first time he’s not welcomed back with open arms.
Having originally left Edmonton after losing a game of contract chicken with then Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe, Smyth returned as a member of the Colorado Avalanche and was moved to tears by the reception fans gave him.
He was traded from Colorado to Los Angeles, so fans in the Mile High City had no reason to bear any ill will towards him.
But in Los Angeles, Smyth left a contending team that appeared to have all the pieces needed to challenge for the Stanley Cup. He was an integral part of the club and still had a year left in his contract when he requested a ticket out of town.
It didn’t help matters that the Kings felt they received damaged goods in the deal, as Colin Fraser required surgery to repair an ankle the Oilers claimed had already healed.
“It’s going to be a little emotional,” Smyth said. “I played two years there. I made some friends there, I had some good teammates there but I just want it to be another game. I want to win. They’re in our conference and we want the two points.”
Having Smyth in the lineup, has so far, has gone a long way in helping the Oilers achieve early-season success. The veteran heads into the encounter against the Kings with five goals and five assists in 10 games this season.
He’s tied with Jordan Eberle for second in team scoring, behind rookie sensation Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
“You get guys that have a knack for being in the right place at the right time,” said linemate Ryan Jones. “It’s hard to teach things like that. It’s just a matter of being there, and he has that, he’s done it at every stage, playoffs and things like that. It’s an instinctual thing and he just seems to have it. It’s a painful place to hang around, but you get rewarded if you hang around there.”
Smyth, Jones and Shawn Horcoff have developed a good chemistry that gives head coach Tom Renney a reliable option to put on the ice regardless of the situation.
Smyth’s line may not be as flashy as their younger counterparts, but it can be as effective.
“I looked at him as a guy that I can model my game around a little bit,” Jones said. “It’s going to be hard to match what he’s done and when you pick his brain in the locker room, you figure out that he’s a simple, humble guy.
“He sticks to what he does best: he goes hard to the net, bangs in goals around the net and doesn’t stray too far from his game.”
The same can be said about Smyth’s principles. His values of faith, family and hockey have guided the Banff native through an impressive 16-year career.
He’s thankful for everything the game has given him and bears no resentment towards the Kings or their fans.
“They gave me every opportunity, when the trade took place from Colorado,” Smyth said. “It’s a privilege to play this game, whether you’re a member of the (New York) Islanders, Avalanche, Kings or in Edmonton. It’s a privilege.”
Notes … The Oilers have sent Linus Omark down to Oklahoma City and recalled defenceman Colten Teubert. Omark had played in just five games this year and had been a healthy scratch for the past five games. Teubert was acquired as part of the Dustin Penner trade last season and missed the majority of training camp with a concussion.