For some time now (years) I’ve felt the most natural comparable for Ales Hemsky is Rick Middleton. You’ll hear “Hossa” or “Havlat” but I think Middleton is a better comp by style, development and performance.
Don Cherry once said about Rick Middleton “he’s no mamby-pamby player” which I take to mean that Middleton could get into the middle of things despite not being a powerforward. You could say something similar about Hemsky.
Middleton was a puck wizard, he was a slick playmaker and could impact a powerplay. You could say the same thing about Hemsky.
Middleton’s career took some time to explode but once he’d arrived (1979) he went on a 6-year romp through the National Hockey League where he was one of the best wingers in the game. We’re just at the beginning of that run (79-84) in the career of Middleton and might expect a similar jump in Hemsky’s performance.
By boxcar, Hemsky has been tracking ahead of Middleton until this season:
- 75-76 (22) 77gp, 24-26-50 .649
- 76-77 (23) 72gp, 20-22-42 .583
- 77-78 (24) 79gp, 25-35-60 .759
- 78-79 (25) 71gp, 38-48-86 1.211
- 05-06 (22) 81gp, 19-58-77 .951
- 06-07 (23) 64gp, 13-40-53 .828
- 07-08 (24) 74gp, 20-51-71 .959
- 08-09 (25) 72gp, 23-43-66 .917
In terms of percentage of team offense, Hemsky has been ahead of the game by quite a bit, but we need to remember Middleton wasn’t among the top wingers on his team (in terms of scoring) until 1978-79. Here are the % of offense numbers by age:
- Age 22: Hemsky (31.3), Middleton (19.8)
- Age 23: Hemsky (35.3), Middleton (14.9)
- Age 24: Hemsky (35.7), Middleton (18.2)
- Age 25: Hemsky (33.0), Middleton (30.7)
As you can see Middleton closed the gap quickly and beginning the following season was in on over 30% of team offense for a long time. The Bruins had some good centermen during that period (Jean Ratelle, Gregg Sheppard) but Peter McNab was most often matched with Middleton. He had very quick hands and was 6.03, making it hard to remove him from scoring areas. The LW on their line was most often a player who could win battles along the wall and feed the skilled men (Terry O’Reilly, Wayne Cashman, Don Marcotte, Stan Jonathan and later Charlie Simmer).
As we know the most often used center for Hemsky over the years has been Shawn Horcoff. He is a more complete player than McNab was, but lacks the quick hands and pure offensive skill. The Oilers don’t currently have on their roster a player with enough skill to play on the top line who is as fierce as Cashman or O’Reilly in their prime.
Should Dany Heatley choose a town not named Edmonton this summer, I think the Oilers should stay the course with Dustin Penner or give the LW job to Patrick O’Sullivan to see how many sublime passes he can cash. Outside of those men, names they should be shopping for include David Booth (3.4 shots per game), Joe Pavelski (3.3 shots per game), Phil Kessel (3.3 shots per game) and Patrick Sharp (3.0 shots per game).
The only Oiler forward in the range is Patrick O’Sullivan (3.2) who would certainly be a strong candidate based on the team’s expressed need for a shooter.