EDMONTON - Ales Hemsky smiles at the irony.
For the first time in three years, the Edmonton Oilers winger has been able to put in a full off-season of workouts and is healthy heading into training camp. Yet now that he's back in Edmonton, there may not be a training camp to go to.
"It was nice, finally after three seasons I could do pretty much everything this off-season so I enjoyed it," Hemsky said after skating with a handful of local NHL players at a south side arena. "I'm ready for the season, but it's funny, I'm ready for the season and it might not start on time. We'll see what happens."
Regardless of when the puck drops on the year, the Oilers can look forward to having a healthy Hemsky at the start.
Last season, the slick winger was recovering from shoulder surgery, which set him back at the beginning of the year.
Hemsky went on to record one of his lowest totals with the club, scoring 10 goals and adding 26 assists in 69 games.
Regardless, the Oilers re-signed Hemsky to a two-year, $5-million-per-year deal, hoping the Pardubice, Czech Republic native can return to the from that saw him threaten the 80-point plateau the year the Oilers went on to the Stanley Cup final.
"It's nice, after three years, I finally feel much better than before," Hemsky said. "I enjoyed the summer and enjoyed the workouts. I could do everything that my conditioning trainer gave me to do, so I was happy about that."
In his nine years with the Oilers, Hemsky has twice been forced to shut a season down early due to shoulder problems.
He was limited to just 22 games three years ago before requiring season-ending shoulder surgery. Hemsky then played 47 games two seasons ago before an injury to his other shoulder shut him down for the year.
"In the past during the off-season, I couldn't do much upper body work," Hemsky said. "I was really sore and I was rehabbing too. I couldn't stretch the shoulders and I couldn't do a lot of things. All I could do was a lot of leg and cardio work.
"This year was good, I wasn't bored like I had been the last couple of years. This year I could do everything, it was a lot more fun."
Hemsky is coming into the season with something to prove, having signed the extension last season heading towards unrestricted free agency.
Through the NHL Entry Draft, the club has been able to surround Hemsky with an abundance of young talent.
Apart from Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Hemsky will now have Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz to pass the puck to.
"We have a great team, but you can't just talk about how great your team is," Hemsky said. "You have to prove it on the ice and hopefully we can do it this year."
In preparation for the upcoming year, Hemsky had been skating with his hometown team in Pardubice in preparation for the upcoming season.
It's where he'll head back to play if the lockout goes for an extended period of time.
"I don't want to just keep training," Hemsky said. "I've been training for four months already so I'm kind of getting sick of it. I want to play somewhere.
"The teams back home have a lot of guys that have grown up in those cities and they're talking about what would happen if there was a lockout and whether they're coming back or not. It's about the money, too, because if you come back, you have to insure the NHL contracts and it's a lot of money for the teams so they can't take too many guys."
Hemsky, 29, spent the 2004 lockout at home in Pardubice, scoring 13 goals and adding 18 assists in 47 games.
Insurance issues aside, he expects club teams in the Czech Republic to welcome players for any length of time if they are locked out in North America.
"They haven't said anything in the Czech Republic yet," Hemsky said. "I know in Sweden they said that if you want to play in their top league, you have to stay for the whole year. I know they talked about it a little bit in the Czech Republic, but if those guys come back, the people will be happy and it'll help grow hockey a little more. The Czech Republic is not Sweden, so we'll see."