Wayne Gretzky has been thoroughly enjoying his return to Alberta since being named a partner and vice chairman with the Oilers Entertainment Group last month, and it couldn’t have come during a better season in recent memory for this franchise.
“It’s so nice to be back in Edmonton,” said Gretzky during an appearance on NHL Network Tuesday evening. “I got to be on the road with the guys in the last couple of weeks. It’s a really good, young team. They’re fun to be around. It’s exciting again for the city of Edmonton.”
Gretzky was on NHL Tonight ahead of the much-anticipated showdown between Sidney Crosby’s Penguins and Connor McDavid’s Oilers.
“For me, I get to watch Pittsburgh – winning the Stanley Cup and being the great team they are,” noted No. 99. “Crosby, to me, is the best player in hockey. Until somebody knocks him off that mantle, he’s the best player. It’s a great test for Connor, it’s a great test for our hockey club.
As good as it gets. pic.twitter.com/zjUWd0ZSOp
— #HockeyFightsCancer (@NHL) November 9, 2016
“We’ve had a really nice start to the season. We’ve had a really good road trip. We’re going to go against the Stanley Cup champions, and they’re a very good team. They’re champions for a reason, because they’re good and they play hard.”
The Oilers were 7-2-0 headed into this five-game road trip that ended with last night’s 4-3 defeat at the hands of the Penguins. Edmonton lost three of those five contests away from Rogers Place, but came away with five points out of a possible 10 and were in every single game.
There is still a lot of work to be done, but this 9-4-1 team is legitimately going into each night thinking it has a chance to win. When was the last time we could say that about an Oilers roster?
Progress. It’s happening.
“One of the things that I really like about the Edmonton Oilers this year is the team has worked very hard,” observed Gretzky. “Guys like Draisaitl and Maroon and Lucic – they’ve been a big part of the success of this team. Signing Russell, trading for Larsson, the goaltender Talbot – it’s just been fun to watch. It’s exciting for the people of Edmonton. They’re great hockey fans. It’s a great sports city. They’ve been through a lot of tough times over the last 15 years and it’s an exciting time. I’m glad to be a part of it right now. Pete Chiarelli is just a wonderful man and he’s done a great job. He won a Stanley Cup in Boston. He’s put together a really nice team in Edmonton. Todd McLellan and his staff are doing a wonderful job.
“So it’s nice for me just to go to the games, watch, enjoy it, and be part of the Edmonton Oilers fan club.”
Gretzky, naturally, continues to sing the praises of McDavid.
“I think he’s the best 19-year-old hockey player I’ve ever seen,” marvelled The Great One.
Gretzky sees the same thing that fans of the league have been watching unfold in terms of the youthful takeover of the NHL in recent seasons, which has seemingly carried an added prominence this year.
“These kids today – they work hard, they’re focused, they believe in what they’re doing, they want to win. They’ve accepted a responsibility of being that person for their city. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner in Toronto. Connor in Edmonton. Scheifele in Winnipeg.
“I really have a great deal of respect for these young men. I think they’re really something positive for our sport. I think the game’s in a great position right now.
“As I said to Connor, just go play and enjoy yourself. Mark Messier used to say to me every day, ‘There’s not one thing about the game of hockey I don’t like.’ And if you think that way, and you believe in that, you’re going to enjoy every single minute of playing in and being part of the National Hockey League.
“Connor right now is obviously the catalyst. Being 19 years old and being the captain of an NHL team, it’s an honor and a thrill. I think he’s accepted it with a great deal of respect.
“His teammates idolize him and believe he’s the guy who is going to lead them to the Promised Land.”
Source: NHL Network
For reference: Covering the Insiders