Oilers swap D-men with Wild

Oilers defenceman Tom Gilbert is moving to his home state of Minnesota to play for the Wild. (Ian...

Oilers defenceman Tom Gilbert is moving to his home state of Minnesota to play for the Wild. (Ian Kucerak/QMI Agency)

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:21 AM ET

EDMONTON - Tom Gilbert figured one day he would like a chance to play at home, in front of friends and family, for the Minnesota Wild.

He didnt imagine the day would come so soon, however, having been dealt to the Wild Monday in exchange for defenceman Nick Schultz.

I can actually see my mom smiling right now, said Gilbert, shortly after the trade was announced. I havent even looked at my phone at all my texts yet. Im sure theyve tried calling and texting and they probably already have a house set up for me and are going to have a welcome-home party. Its exciting to go back home to a team that Ive been watching since Ive been young.

I think it makes it easier. Im comfortable in Minnesota, Ive played in that rink plenty of times, even growing up. Its pretty exciting for me.

The move came as a surprise to Gilbert, whose name had not come up in pre-deadline trade speculation.

The Bloomington, Minn., native still had two years left on his contract after this season and was considered a key component on the Oilers blue line.

Yet, when the Wild approached the Oilers inquiring about Gilbert, looking to add offence to their back end, the Oilers listened.

When they offered up Schultz in return, general manager Steve Tambellini made the move.

They wanted him, said Tambellini. Tom Gilbert is a gentleman, hes been a great Oiler and I dont think youll find a teammate that has a bad thing to say about him.

But when youre looking at our mix going forward, we dont have enough of what Nick Schultz brings.

Gilbert, 29, had three goals and 14 assists in 46 games for the Oilers this season.

He was originally acquired by the club from the Colorado Avalanche in 2004 in a deal that sent goaltender Tommy Salo and a sixth-round pick the other way.

At the time, Gilbert was still playing collegiate hockey at the University of Wisconsin. He made his NHL debut with the Oilers in 2007 and has been a mainstay on the teams blue line for the past five seasons.

Ive been part of a trade before, but I was in college, said Gilbert. So being part of a team and getting traded is a new experience for me. But its part of the business and you have to expect that. I didnt hear my name getting called out at all before this. Even talking to my agent there was nothing really going on. So it was kind of a surprise to hear that rumour first of all I heard that something may be happening before it did but its a new experience for me.

Right now, its a bit of a rush thinking about how Im going to get there and how Im going to fit with my new team, but its exciting.

Coincidentally, Gilbert had been left behind by the Oilers as they travelled to Winnipeg to face the Jets Monday.

The Oilers defenceman tweaked his back in Saturdays game against the Phoenix Coyotes and was told to stay home and rest while the remainder of the squad flew out Sunday.

You dont want to over-analyze things, but it was definitely a surprise for me to miss a game, I dont like missing games at all, Gilbert said. To be left behind, it leaves you thinking a little bit, but you have no control over that kind of stuff. You just sit back and see whats going to happen.

With the Oilers, Gilbert had never seen a playoff game, but will now be heading to a club currently in a chase for a playoff spot.

Regardless, considering the time he put into the Oilers organization and the fact he had to endure years of struggles, only to finally see light at the end of the tunnel, it is difficult for Gilbert to leave.

You can see the direction this team is heading, especially with these young guys that are coming into this league and every game, theyre getting better and better, Gilbert said. The skys the limit with a lot of these younger players too. So its unfortunate that I have to leave a great group of guys.

Ive been here for six years and you get accustomed to these guys and youre comfortable where youre living and then this happens. You wish the guys all the best, theyre a great bunch of guys.

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/SUNdvandiest


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