SUN Hockey Pool

Nilson's rating rising

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

For more than two months, Marcus Nilson had to bide his time.

A healthy scratch for 24 of 28 games, the Calgary Flames forward couldn't do more than wait for his turn. What a reward he's received.

With Kristian Huselius's ice time cut drastically, to the point he wasn't dressed last game, Nilson has been the big benefactor, skating often on the top two lines -- sometimes with Jarome Iginla and Daymond Langkow, or with Craig Conroy and Owen Nolan.

You can't help but wonder how a player goes from being a regular in press-box row to prime-time shifts.

"I think I'm the wrong guy to ask. I don't make those decisions," Nilson said yesterday. "But it feels good to be back playing and trying to help the team out."

Head coach Mike Keenan was at the helm for a spell while Nilson was with the Florida Panthers, and used him in a top-line role.

"He's got the skill set to play there or play in another role when he's on top of his game. He reads the game well and knows the game, and that's what it takes," Keenan said.

"When Marcus played with me, I think he scored 20 goals (actually 15), so I had him in a completely different role than he's been placed in here before I arrived.

"Maybe the confusion came between the two of us because I had this built-in expectation of what he did before and thought he should do the same again."

It's a far cry from mid-December through the mid-February, when the veteran was part of the black aces and feeling frustrated.

"Luckily, at home it was good," he said. "I've got a young son, and as soon as you get home and see it, you don't think about it. But it was hard at the rink, going on trips and not playing, that kind of stuff.

"I tried to work hard and if something happened, tried to be ready."

Ice chips

LW Alex Tanguay (broken toe), D Rhett Warrener (ankle), F Mark Smith (head) and RW Owen Nolan were all excused from yesterday's practice ... The session was fun-filled, first featuring a scrimmage with players using wrong-handed sticks, then playing out of position. Even the conditioning skating came with a wrinkle: Hard rock music. "That should be part of it a lot more. That's great, especially when you're out there skating. It definitely takes your mind off it," said captain Jarome Iginla.


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