SUN Hockey Pool

Horcoff aiming higher

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 2:41 PM ET

He's No. 2, and trying harder.

With consternation in some corners about the Edmonton Oilers' lack of a bona fide No. 1 centre, even with the acquisition of Michael Peca, Shawn Horcoff won't even try to pass himself off as a reasonable facsimile.

But, while GM Kevin Lowe may have to address the concern at some point - if circumstances and budget dictate - Horcoff is convinced he can make a case that he's the real deal as a second banana.

Judging by offensive numbers that have improved in every one of his first four NHL seasons and the campaign he just spent dangling in Sweden during the NHL lockout, the fleet-footed Horcoff can make a reasonably persuasive argument for that.

"I'm excited about getting a chance to step up my play, improve and be a bigger contributor," Horcoff said.

"That's been my goal. When you come into the NHL you sometimes have to change your game to keep a spot, and that's what I did. I've been able to get a bit better every year and score more points."

Horcoff, 26, has managed that since he left Michigan State and broke in with the Oilers during the 2000-01 season.

The six-foot-one, 205-pound pivot from Trail, B.C., had 16 points in 49 games as a rookie.

In 2001-02, he produced 22 points in 61 games. In 2002-03, Horcoff hit double-digits in goals for the first time, with 12, and finished with 33 points. In 2003-04, his totals jumped to 40 points in 80 games.

WHAT'S NOT TO LIKE?

OK, so that won't garner Horcoff comparisons to Peter Forsberg or Joe Thornton, but if Horcoff can improve on 2003-04 - by the way, he had 46 points in 50 games with Mora - what's not to like about him at No. 2?

"I don't know. Time will tell," coach Craig MacTavish said, asked if Horcoff can improve on past offensive totals.

"I think it's important we give him the opportunity and situational ice time that he can develop into that type of player.

"Shawn's a smart guy, he sees the opportunity to step in and fill an important offensive role for us."

Horcoff, who filed for a salary arbitration hearing earlier this week, finished fifth in Oilers scoring in 2003-04 with 15-25-40 behind Ryan Smyth, Radek Dvorak, Petr Nedved and Mike York.

Used mostly on the third and fourth lines in his first three seasons, 28 of Horcoff's 40 points came at even strength, again, fifth on the team. He had nine power-play points and three more shorthanded.

"Last season was huge for me," Horcoff said of his time with Mora. "It enabled me to work on my offensive game. I want to be looked at as a guy who can be counted on for 50 points.

"That's a goal of mine. When you first come into the league, you're just happy to be here. Once you establish yourself, you want to build on that and become a better player."

If Peca can return to the form that saw him score 25-35-60 with the New York Islanders in 2001-02, when he earned his second Frank Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward, and Horcoff can notch 50 points, the Oilers won't be as thin on scoring at pivot on the first two lines as some fear.

SOMETHING TO SAY

"Horcoff will have something to say about that," MacTavish said.

"Peca is a guy who gives me a lot of flexibility. You can use him in offensive situations. You can use him to match-up against lines.

"It's no secret the component we're missing is a high-end offensive guy, but no team is going to have it all."


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