Oilers Watch: Change of scenery ignites Brule

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It’s amazing what a change of scenery can do for a struggling NHLer.

Take Gilbert Brule, for example. At one point in his draft year, the gifted center was ranked just behind Sidney Crosby. He put up 87 points and a fiery 169 penalty minutes for the Western League’s Vancouver Giants and was tabbed with the sixth pick in the 2005 draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

But after another year of junior and two full seasons with the Jackets, Brule was sitting on 32 points through 146 NHL games. The “bust” label was sitting out there, injuries had stalled his development and Columbus still didn’t have a post-season appearance to its name.

Fast-forward to the present. Brule has seven points in his first nine games and is providing the Oilers, who acquired the pivot in exchange for Raffi Torres in the summer of 2008, with some much-needed balance on the scoresheet.

Was Columbus wrong to give up on a top prospect who was just 21 years old when traded to Edmonton? Sometimes a player’s problems extend to the mental part of the game, so Brule’s arrival in Alberta was probably the best thing ever for him.

In Edmonton, he got a fresh start, albeit one that involved a trip to Springfield in the American League. Nevertheless, he has regained his scoring touch this year, which has benefited the Oilers greatly: Edmonton has scored at least three goals in all but four games this season and getting contributions from all over is the winning strategy.

On the flip side, the Oilers recently jettisoned highly anticipated prospect Rob Schremp through waivers, where he was picked up by the New York Islanders. Schremp, one year older than Brule, had just three assists in a seven-game NHL career. His offensive skills were tantalizing and insiders often said if hockey had a Harlem Globetrotters outfit, Schremp would fit right in.

But the Oilers couldn’t wait forever for the former London Knights star to find his own end of the ice and after a disappointing 2008-09 season with Springfield, it was clear in training camp Schremp was on his last chance. With one assist through six games in New York, Schremp has yet to prove the Oilers wrong, but that’s the thing about change-of-scenery guys; you have to forget about them and hope they don’t get revenge on you in the playoffs. Waiting for a turnaround just hurts the player and the team.

This article also appeared in the Edmonton Metro newspaper.

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