After nearly four seasons of arguing, pleading and frustration, Oilers GM Glen Sather finally pulled the trigger on the highest draft pick, and biggest bust, in Edmonton history, Jason Bonsignore, trading him to Tampa Bay.
There’s no denying the fact that Bonsignore is one of the most talented young hockey players out there, when he wants to be, and if he ever gets his act together, the Oilers could be kicking themselves for not giving him one more year. The Blackhawks gave up on a young goalie some years ago because it seemed he had an attitude problem and couldn’t hack it in the big leagues, despite tremendous talent. That goalie went on to be last year’s winner of the Hart, Vezina and Pearson trophies and was an integral part of the Northeast Division champion Buffalo Sabres.
It’s tough seeing such potential go to waste. Bonsignore has been compared to Mario Lemieux when he’s playing with heart. As one scout put it, Jason has all the tools but no tool box. Another said he had the makings of a Cadillac but the heart of less pricey model. There are no glaring deficiencies in his play and his finesse game includes brilliant playmaking and vision, terrific hockey sense and boy, can he skate like the wind! He has also silenced criticism that he has no physical game, getting involved in traffic and in the corners and adding a gritty factor to his play while in Hamilton. The one thing, however, that has earned him the most criticism, a demotion to the IHL and, ultimately, his permanent removal from the Oilers’ future plans is his lack of heart and desire to succeed. He’s spouted off, complaining the Oilers, Bulldogs, Team USA and every other team that he’s blessed his presence with have not given him a fair chance, don’t have any faith in him.
The Lightning are banking on him gaining some common sense and doing just that.
The Oilers seemed to have no qualms giving up Bonsignore but it had to be tough to let go of a proven and almost as talented prospect in Steve Kelly, also a former first round pick. The Bulldog standout continued to get the short end of the stick while the Oilers toiled in the Western Conference basement, constantly being shipped back and forth between Hamilton and Edmonton, due to no fault of his own. In an attempt to turn his team around, before resorting to trades, Sather mixed up his lines with his overflowing supply of rookies. Despite all the shuffling, Kelly handled it like a true pro and continued to play his game–super fast, gritty yet skilled and consistent–regardless of his linemates of the day. There’s little doubting that Kelly will find success in the NHL, it’s just sad that Sather saw him as just another prospect. Kelly’s take on the situation? “The surprising thing is I didn’t get the time I needed there. For a young guy, it’s best to get in and play a lot like you need to do to improve at every level. It’s tough to do that with a handful of shifts.” Not only did the Oilers give up some excellent talent, they gave up a real team player in Kelly. The Lightning should be overjoyed to have a class act like him on their roster.
Bonsignore could turn into a legitimate NHL superstar or he could just end up as a high-profiled washout in some beer league. Kelly has the skills and potential but will the Lightning give him the chances he deserves? Hamrlik, coming off his worst season, is just hitting his prime. Can he return to his All-Star form of late with the Oilers? And will Marchment continue to play like he’s with a Broad Street Bully, evoking fear in the hearts–and knees–of every opponent? And finally, will University of Denver sensation Paul Comrie be able to take his game and small frame(5-10, 185) to the rough and tumble NHL? Only time will be able to answer these questions.