Size matters

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:06 AM ET

Look up. Look way up.

When Dave Semenko broke into the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers in 1980, it took 10 fingers and a couple of toes to count the players in the league who were bigger than the six-foot-three, 215-pound enforcer who used to ride shotgun for No. 99. Sammy was as big as anybody and tougher than everybody.

Take a glance around the Oilers rookie camp, where 37 hopefuls are going through their paces this week, and Semenko isn't nearly the biggest guy in the rink.

While Sammy, an Oilers scout, is still Mr. Semenko to prospects hoping to earn an invitation to main camp Tuesday, 10 of the 37 players attending the rookie look-see are as tall or taller than old No. 27. Seven bend the beams at 215 pounds or more.

If bigger really is better - and it might be, considering the schedule sets up like a battle of attrition with eight games against divisional opponents this season - size won't be an issue.

The Oilers have plenty of it.

"All things being equal, a guy who has size and ability is going to win out over a smaller guy," GM Kevin Lowe said after yesterday's session in Fort Saskatchewan.

"Certainly, within our division, there's going to be battles, no question. With eight (games), that's inevitable. You want to have some toughness in the lineup."

MERE SIX-FOOTERS

This week, mere six-footers look like Danny DeVito on skates compared to the big boys - and that's without six-foot-six twin towers Chris Pronger and Alexei Semenov, 250-pound Georges Laraque and six-foot-five, 230-pound Brad Winchester around.

The tale of the tape at forward includes J.F. Jacques, who is six-foot-four and 225 pounds, Zach Stortini (six-foot-three, 225 pounds), Troy Bodie (six-foot-four, 215 pounds) and Brock Radunske (six-foot-three, 200 pounds).

"My physical game is what's going to get me to the next level," said Jacques, who had a career-high 78 points with Baie-Comeau last season before a six-game AHL stint with the Edmonton Road Runners.

"I showed last year I could get some points, but if I want to go higher, it's the physical game that will do it for me. Playing hard-nosed, that's how I'm going to make it."

On the back end, the behemoths are Matt Greene (six-foot-three, 230 pounds), Jordan Little (six-foot-four, 220 pounds) and Dan Smith, who is six-foot-three and 215 pounds. Even string bean stopper Devan Dubnyk is six-foot-five. That's a lot of groceries.

MUSCLE ON HAND

"This division is going to be big and strong," said Greene, whose calling card is physicality. "That's the way I play, the way I carry myself. If you've got to take a bump to give a bump, I guess you have to make sure you're giving out more than you're taking."

With rules in place to open up the game for the 2005-06 season and all this muscle on hand, it might seem the Oilers have been caught with their pants down by drafting so much size in recent years.

Not so. The impressive thing about most of these big kids is they move very well. Kevin Prendergast and his scouts aren't assessing youngsters based solely on what the tape measure and the scale tells them.

"We've tried to make sure some of the bigger kids we've taken are good skaters," Prendergast said. "You could send a lot of these kids over to the Eskimos and they'd blend right in, but they can move."

Of course, a lot of these strapping lads won't be here when the puck drops for keeps Oct. 5, but it's obvious the Oilers won't be showing up for eight tilts with Calgary, Vancouver, Colorado and Minnesota looking like a roster full of pencil-necked accountants toting pocket protectors.

"You're not going to be able to win in this conference or this division unless you win the physical battles because of the teams we have to play against," Prendergast said.

"You need the skilled guys and the players who can put the puck away, and we feel like we have some of those kids. At the same time, you have to win in the trenches and you do that with the big kids we're talking about."


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