Penner lives and learns

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:11 AM ET

Ask Dustin Penner what it means to reach the 20-goal mark as an NHL rookie, and you can almost hear the big winger from Winkler shrug those massive shoulders of his over the phone.

"Not much, really," Penner began. "Like Teemu says, I'm not a numbers guy. That's what he always says."

Penner was referring to Teemu Selanne, the former Winnipeg Jets great whom he used to cheer for as a kid at the Winnipeg Arena.

These days, Penner doesn't have to look far to see the Finnish Flash -- he sits next to him in the Anaheim Ducks dressing room.

It's a seat that's providing invaluable lessons for a 24-year-old trying to carve out his own identity in the league.

At 36, Selanne is having another stellar season, his 38 goals and 37 assists putting him on pace for 49 goals and 96 points. Recently he scored his 301st as a Duck, breaking Paul Kariya's team record.

"I have the fortune of sitting beside Teemu, and watching him function on a day-to-day basis," Penner said. "You take notice when he's played a thousand games, scored more than 500 goals and a thousand points. How does someone like me, who just got into the league, get to where he is?"

Let's face it, you probably don't.

Selanne is a rare combination of speed and hands, as Winnipeggers who witnessed his 76-goal rookie campaign can attest. But the Flash has added longevity to his dash, and how he takes care of himself is something Penner can learn from.

"That's where you start picking up all his daily habits," Penner said. "A lot of these older guys pretty much run like machines. You know at 5:23 they'll be in this part of the building, stretching or doing weights ... every day, just the same. That's how you get longevity in this game. And I'm sure his wife Sirpa's got him full of all the right type of food."

Sounds like his kids keep him young, too.

"Sometimes it seems like a day care in the dressing room," Penner said. "There's three always running around ... they're a blast."

Compared to Selanne, Penner is still a kid, too.

His combination of skills is also unusual -- a 6-foot-4, 245-pounder with feet and hands that aren't cast in concrete.

After bursting onto the scene late last season -- he joined the Ducks for the stretch run and put up nine points in 13 playoff games -- Penner has experienced some growing pains, despite his solid numbers.

The one stat that bugs him: his team-worst plus-minus (-6), a bit of an anomaly, since he led the AHL at plus-41 a year ago.

"I would have said last year in the AHL it's a great stat," Penner said. "This year I'm not too fond of it. That's the only number that I actually care about ... I just hate feeling like I'm a liability on defence."

This is a good sign, though: his teammates like to rib him about it. So he must be fitting in.

"I always tell the guys my right arm's a little longer than my left, for when they want to get me fitted for the green jacket," he said. "I've been on top of the leaderboard for a while, here."

Like Selanne, Penner has his own franchise record: most goals by a rookie. Not bad for a guy who, a few years back, couldn't make a Manitoba Junior League team.

But if Selanne shrugs off his numbers, why would Penner get all excited about his?

"I told him, 'Teemu, you broke Anaheim's franchise record for goals,' and he goes, 'Aw, I'm not a numbers guy,' " Penner chuckled. "He's a funny guy. I should have said to him, 'I'd be giving your rookie record for goals a run for its money -- if there was a 130-game schedule.' "

Live and learn, kid. Live and learn.


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