Nobody will argue that the Kings haven’t benefited greatly from the acquisition of Wayne Gretzky.
But as the Edmonton Oilers showed again Friday night at the Northlands Coliseum, in a 6-1 victory over the Kings in Game 2 of the Smythe Division final, they were hardly decimated by the Great One’s departure.
Peter Pocklington undoubtedly smiled as the game unfolded.
Not only is the Oiler owner $15 million richer from the trade/sale of the NHL’s all-time leading scorer, but he also has in his service several players obtained in the trade who have made major contributions.
One of them is Martin Gelinas, a 19-year-old rookie from Shawinigan, Canada, who in the first two games of this series has two more goals, three more points and two more victories than Gretzky, who so far has been shut out by his former teammates.
Gelinas, a first-round draft choice of the Kings, is part of the Oilers’ fourth line, which is made up entirely of players who were obtained, either directly or indirectly, as a result of the Gretzky trade.
A stocky left wing, Gelinas scored a goal and assisted on another in the Oilers’ 7-0 victory in Game 1, and in Game 2 he re-directed a pass from Joe Murphy at 9:12 of the first period, breaking a scoreless tie and sending the Oilers on their way to another lopsided victory.
“He’s like a little truck,” said Adam Graves, who centers the line between Gelinas and Murphy. “He sees the puck and it’s hard to get him off of it. He’s got guys draped all over him, but he just kind of shakes them off.”
Graves described Gelinas as a “mini-Mess,” comparing him to Mark Messier, the Oiler captain and most valuable player.
“I don’t think so,” Gelinas said. “Messier’s a great player. There’s no comparison between me and Messier.”
That doesn’t mean Gelinas hasn’t left a strong impression.
“He’s got a good nose for the net--goes for the net all the time,” said Glen Sather, the Oiler president and general manager. “He’s the kind of guy, you can knock him down and he keeps getting back up.”
Gelinas, then 18, was the seventh player picked in the 1988 draft. A product of the same junior team that produced Luc Robitaille, he was rookie of the year and a first-team all-star in the Quebec Major junior league, helping lead the Hull Olympiques to the league championship.
Although he was the shortest of the top 24 wing available in the draft, as ranked by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau, the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Gelinas was ranked as the No. 8 prospect.
According to King General Manager Rogie Vachon, the Montreal Canadiens regarded Gelinas as the No. 2 prospect.
“I know Los Angeles has the reputation of a party town,” Gelinas said on the day he was drafted, “but I plan to bear down and play hockey.”
But Gelinas never got a chance to play in Los Angeles.
Two months after the draft, he was sent to Edmonton.
“We knew we’d have to give up some decent players to get (Gretzky),” Vachon said. “We were high on (Gelinas), obviously, because we took him in the first round. We drafted him . . . what, seventh or eighth overall? He’s a good player--tremendous speed and very solid on his skates.”
Vachon said the Oilers insisted on Gelinas in the Gretzky deal, which also brought Jimmy Carson and three No. 1 draft picks to Edmonton.
“I don’t want to rehash that deal,” Sather said. “I’m not interested in talking about the Gretzky deal. That’s history as far as we’re concerned. But Gelinas was part of the trade and he was one of the players we wanted. We were very fortunate to get him.”
Gelinas played only six games with the Oilers last season, scoring a goal and assisting on two others before being sent back to Hull.
“He was young and learning how to speak English,” Sather said. “It was probably the right decision to send him back. We probably should have sent him back right off the bat. It probably would have been better for him.”
Gelinas enjoyed another big season in Hull, compiling 77 points in 41 games, and spent all of this season with the Oilers.
He scored 17 goals and had 25 points in 46 games during the regular season, but was held without a point in five games in a Smythe Division semifinal series against the Winnipeg Jets.
Mostly, Gelinas and his linemates are used to give breathers to the Oilers on the first and second lines.
“We don’t play much,” Gelinas said, “but when we go on the ice, we try to make something happen.”
Every time they do, Pocklington’s smile grows wider.