Power project

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

You can't teach size. You can't teach raw talent.

And you can't teach somebody to be mean.

But if you've got a naturally gifted young winger who's six-foot-five, 230 pounds and has a short fuse, you teach like you've never taught before - because if kids like that ever realize their full potential, they can be scary.

In most cases, though, the bigger they are the longer it takes, and there are usually points along the learning curve when the cause seems lost. So while Edmonton Oilers work in progress Brad Winchester is still several years from completion, the 23-year-old took a few more strides in the right direction Monday with his two-goal, one-fight game against San Antonio.

"That's the type of game he has to play night in and night out," said head coach Geoff Ward, whose Road Runners have a rematch with the Rampage tonight at 7.

"That's something he did a great job of in the second half of last season, playing as a power forward."

A game like that sends chills of excitement through an organization that drafted him 35th overall in 2000, an organization that's been desperately seeking a true power forward for over a decade. Not that the Oilers are any different from about 25 other franchises that have been desperately seeking a true power forward for over a decade. Those guys are a precious commodity.

Whether the towering Wisconsin product ever develops into the kind of NHLwinger who can strike fear into opposing teams with his skill and his brawn remains to be seen. Ward says it's possible, even likely, but knows it won't happen overnight.

"I think there's a huge upside there for him but we have to be patient," said the coach, adding big guys, because they stand out on the ice and have longer, slower strides, face a lot of criticism and growing pains along the way.

"Sometimes it takes a little while for some of those bigger guys to get in a groove. But you look at some of the guys who have really emerged in the last couple of years:It took Todd Bertuzzi a long time to emerge as a true power forward in this league. Joe Thornton as well, it took him a few years. Brad is no different."

Nobody's saying Winchester will be another Thornton (few players on the planet ever will) or even a Bertuzzi, but he's got the tools to one day make an impact of his own in the NHL.

"As long as Brad is meeting the goals that he sets for himself on a daily basis and he's seeing some progress from segment to segment, then he's going to be fine," said Ward. "We're really pleased with the way he's coming along."

No reason not to be. After a rocky rookie season in the AHL last year, Winchester finished strongly down the stretch and has apparently picked up where he left off. He admits it was a huge jump from college to the pros, but is confident the gap is behind him.

"Just getting used to pro hockey is a big deal and a big step," he said. "It's a different game, especially from college, with the sheer amount of games and the schedule. Just the way that pro hockey is played, it's a different type of game. It's something that was an adjustment for me.

"But the coaching staff was really good at teaching me little stuff and getting my feet under me. I felt like I learned so much already in my first year, and it's something I'm trying to bring to the beginning of this year."

Along with the mean streak.

"You want to have presence on the ice, you want to stand up for your teammates, you want to be involved, is probably the biggest thing," grinned Winchester. "And sometimes things lead to other things. But at the end of the night you want to be a player who's tough to play against - and that can be a lot of different things."

He knows big guys with skill are coveted in the NHL, and has heard all the glowing reports about his staggering potential, but right now his primary focus is on being a solid sophomore in the AHL.

"All I can do is worry about myself," said Winchester, who scored through the roof on virtually all pre-season fitness tests. "Everybody kind of has their own time-line for development. I know if I keep working hard in the summers and working on all areas of my game, hopefully good things will come."


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