Ryan Smyth, the Oilers' ultimate heart-and-soul player, is returning to the city his heart never left.

To Edmonton fans, starved of victories while they wait fretfully for the club's young and gifted nucleus to mature, Smyth is the very image of an Oiler: an unassuming, blue-collar player, who delivers an honest night's work, game-in, game-out.

There may be other, younger, cheaper wingers out there the Oilers could have signed or traded for to provide some grit, physical presence and goals, but repatriating the much beloved Smyth became a civic imperative from the instant his trade request became public a week ago.

Smyth is a comfortable, reliable chunk of the past being grafted onto what management hopes will be a culture of excellence, even though Smyth has never won an NHL championship.

Smyth told a conference call he is overwhelmed and thrilled to return to the Oilers, who drafted him sixth overall in 1994, and for whom he played nearly 12 productive seasons.

"I felt great last year," said the 35-year-old Smyth, who played all 82 regular games for the Los Angeles Kings. "I felt like a little kid again.

"I stayed healthy, which was the No. 1 thing. I just want to bring my leadership and hopefully wherever Tom and the coaching staff wants me to play, I'll play."

Sent to the New York Islanders in February 2007 when deadline contract brinksmanship went badly for the player and the Oilers, Smyth's "journey" has taken him to Colorado and Los Angeles since then. But, as he tearfully asserted at that memorable airport news conference in 2007, he now is back in the place where his heart always remained.

Smyth unabashedly loves Edmonton, but does he really know how powerfully the city loves him right back?