Captain Fantastic

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 5:55 AM ET

It's hard to imagine Jason Smith as a young, impressionable rookie. But he was, once, and lucky for the Edmonton Oilers he was surrounded by veterans who made the right impressions.

"When I got to New Jersey, seeing Scott Stevens and some of the other veteran guys like Bruce Driver, Johnny MacLean or Ken Daneyko really helped me out,'' he said.

"It was really interesting to see how they went about their daily business, how they got ready for practices and games, how they brought a high level of execution to the rink on a regular basis.

"The same thing with Mats Sundin and Wendel Clark when I went to Toronto.''

By the time he came to Edmonton and they made him the 11th captain in franchise history, he was more than ready for the job.

"It was an exciting time, and kind of a new experience,'' said Smith, who took over from Doug Weight on Sept. 27, 2001.

"You have to listen and take in everyone's thoughts, whether it's practice stuff or getting the guys a day off, player squabbles, the media, things I didn't really have to really worry about before.

"Before I just went out and played.

"But I'm comfortable with it and I enjoy the challenge, especially with this team because we've had a lot of young guys.

"Hopefully I helped them along the way.''

The Oilers are older now, stocked full of leaders even before they added former captains Chris Pronger and Michael Peca, but there's no question about whose team it is.

"As soon as you walk into the room there's no doubt that he's our guy and he always has been,'' said teammate and friend Ethan Moreau.

"He's just one of those guys who commands respect in the way he carries himself.''

"I've had Chris Chelios (in Chicago), Kelly Buchberger, Doug Weight, and Gator is as good a captain as any of them. It's pretty easy for young guys to follow his lead when he plays the way he does.''

Whether it's a Battle of Alberta instalment on the road or a pre-season game against Vancouver, Smith brings the same contagious fire and tenacity every night.

"Every game is the exact same,'' said Moreau. "I've played a lot of games with him and he prepares the exact same way and the effort level is always there.

"He's such a pro, he's so consistent in his effort, and that's what you want out of your captain.''

Moreau says that in the room - a side of Smith that only his teammates and coaches see - he is just as valuable.

"He's our most vocal guy. He always talks a lot, gets guys up.

"But never gets too pumped up and he's never down. It's always an even keel.

"He reminds you of Chris Chelios or Scott Stevens, always the same.

"And he treats everybody with respect, never has a bad thing to say about a teammate, always positive with the young guys.

"On the ice, he's one of those guys you know is always going to be there.''

Smith saw enough in those early days in Jersey and heard enough about the Oilers in their glory years to know that a hockey team can't win until it functions like a close-knit family.

"You've got 23 different individuals and everyone has a different approach to the game, but the teams that have the most success are the teams that come together the best,'' he said, adding captains have to be part counsellor, part drill sergeant, and leaders by example at all times.

"There are instances where everybody on the team takes on those roles, whether it's trying to get guys fired up with your actions or coddling someone.

"Sometimes guys need a pat on the ass and sometimes they need a kick in the ass.

"There's lots of different things you have to be aware of, but the most important thing is obviously your play on the ice.

"That aspect of it is something that's at the forefront.

"You have to play solid hockey to make that impression and have that impact.''


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