Ex-Oilers Star Hemsky Retires as Underrated Talent

It’s only natural to look back on ex-Edmonton Oilers forward Ales Hemsky’s career, now that he’s officially announced his retirement. For many, hearing his name mentioned elicits one specific memory, even if the sum of the parts of his career add up to so much more.

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Ales Hemsky – (Bridget Samuels/Flickr)

It was Jan. 4, 2007 when the Oilers hosted the Dallas Stars. Leading 4-1 in the second, the Oilers gave up four straight, including three at the start of the third period in a span of 4:20. Comedic coincidence or not, that’s just the way it was.

Hemsky Salvages Game vs. Stars

Trailing 5-4, the Oilers pulled goalie Dwayne Roloson for a shot at redemption. Breaking out of his own zone, defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron fanned on a pass, giving it up to Stars forward Patrik Stefan, who had to just tap it in.

Waltzing in, Stefan blew a tire and fanned on the puck himself, giving the Oilers new life, albeit with just a hair over 10 seconds left in the game. Play went the other way and Hemsky deked out Stars goalie Marty Turco to score and incredibly tie the game. A game that should have been a 6-4 Stars victory was now tied 5-5 and off to overtime. How sweet it was.

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What people tend to forget is, however emotionally uplifting that goal is to remember, the Oilers lost in a shootout that night. The way then-Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish tells it, the “miracle” turned a would-be disaster into a mere debacle.

It was maybe the opposite for Stefan, for whom the play is considered a microcosm of his disappointing career. It turned a mere debacle into a disaster, as that’s the play with which he’s also most associated, for obviously different reasons. Without so much as ever having ever having played a playoff game, Stefan doesn’t exactly have a rolodex of highlights from which to choose.

Thankfully, the same can’t be said for Hemsky, who played 43 total playoff games, coincidentally including 13 for the Stars in 2015-16. As a result, it’s an injustice to consider that one play the highlight of the Czech winger’s career. For example, the 2005-06 postseason, during which the Oilers marched to the Stanley Cup Final, was filled to the brim with others.

Hemsky’s Magical 2006 Playoffs

Consider Hemsky’s two-goal effort in Game Six of the first round to seal the unlikely upset of the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Detroit Red Wings, for example. With the Oilers trailing 3-2 in the dying minutes of the third period, Hemsky scored not just the game-tying goal, but the game-winner too, all in less than three minutes.

Maybe the goal against the Stars is the most well-known goal of Hemsky’s career, but the series-clincher against the Wings was the biggest. The first of the two goals against the Wings may have been luck, the result of a goal-mouth scramble during which Hemsky was pushed into goalie Manny Legace. However, the second was a thing of relative beauty and craftsmanship. Both were evidence of his drive though, as he went to the net each time.

Hemsky danced into the offensive zone, the Red Wings’ defense converging on him as the puck made its way to Sergei Samsonov, Hemsky’s teammate at the time. Hemsky got open and received a perfect pass from Samsonov for the tip-in past Legace. The first of three series victories for the Oilers that spring suddenly sealed and delivered.

Ales Hemsky Oilers
Ales Hemsky – (Jerome Davis/Icon SMI)

A case can be made that Hemsky actually had a bigger hand in the Oilers’ second-round victory against the San Jose Sharks. While he scored four points overall against the Wings, he scored five against the Sharks, including a critical secondary assist on Shawn Horcoff’s Game 3 triple-overtime winner.

Hemsky is the one who wrapped the puck in the corner to an open Ryan Smyth behind the net. Smyth then got it in front to Horcoff, who proceeded to score, leading the Oilers to their first of four straight wins against the Sharks. They had trailed two games to none at the time. So, the Oilers would have faced almost-certain defeat had the Sharks scored instead.  

Overall, Hemsky tallied 17 points in 24 games for the Oilers that spring. More impressively, Hemsky scored a team-leading 77 in 81 games that regular season. It was the first time he displayed his talent as a potential top-line talent on a consistent basis, having scored 30 and 34 points the previous two campaigns. More to the point, Hemsky was able to maintain that level of scoring production, effectively for the next six seasons during what would be the prime of his career.

Hemsky Calls It a (Great) Career

Admittedly, that production trailed off drastically. Only a move to the Ottawa Senators at the 2014 trade deadline temporarily revived Hemsky’s career before the pending unrestricted free agent went on to sign with the Stars. Ultimately, it all ended with a whisper, as he last played for the Montreal Canadiens for a pointless (in more ways than one) seven games in 2017-18 before a concussion derailed what would be his final season. He eventually recovered, but, considering his age, injury history and reduced offense, there was understandably little demand for his services.

Nevertheless, there’s no denying what should by now be inherently obvious. Hemsky had the talent to succeed in this league, and for the most part he did. He may not have lived up to his absolute potential, but, with 572 points in 845 games, he far from disappointed.

While the missed empty net is a metaphor for the gimme of which the Atlanta Thrashers made a mess in 1999, when they selected Stefan first overall instead of either of the Sedin twins, Hemsky ended up the furthest thing from a bust. Drafted 13th overall in 2001, Hemsky scored the eighth-most points of his class, playing the 14th-most games. No one can really effectively argue the Oilers should have chosen anyone else, based on the career he had, based on all that he gave the Oilers over his 10-plus seasons with the team.

Having played for the Oilers, Hemsky obviously won’t go down in team history as one of the absolute best ever. That’s just the sad reality of the situation. However, he has arguably carved himself out a well-deserved place on the Oilers’ all-time team, maybe even finding himself alongside the likes of recent stand-outs Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

If you find yourself the least bit surprised by the selection, don’t be. Every line needs someone they can count on when the game’s on the line. Believe it or not, that was Hemsky. There’s ample video evidence to that effect.