Hemsky won't pass on shooting this year

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 5:02 PM ET

Ales Hemsky likes to pass the puck.

He's a great passer. In fact, he's one of the best passers on the Edmonton Oilers' roster.

Hemsky can shoot the puck, too. He has a great shot.

Getting him to take that shot, however, has been a source of frustration for the Oilers' coaching staff in the past.

That's expected to change this year, though.

"I think that will all go away," said Edmonton Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "There was a tendency to overpass early in his career, but he's making those decisions fine now.

"He's making good decisions. The one time I told him to shoot the puck, he feathered it over for an open-netter, so he knows what he's doing. That hasn't been an issue at camp."

The Oilers are hoping good decisions translate into high production.

Entering his third year with the club - not including last season's lockout - Hemsky is developing into the type of player the Oilers envisioned when they drafted him.

The Oilers made the 22-year-old product of Pardubice, Czech Republic, their first pick (13th overall) in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.

Hemsky played with the Oilers straight out of junior, having starred with the Hull Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for two years.

"My expectations for him this year are that he's going to establish himself as an everyday player, play on our top two lines and continue to improve," MacTavish said.

"They are not unreal expectations we have for him. We don't expect him to lead the league in scoring or get into the top five in scoring. He's got that ability, but we're not expecting that from him."

Not yet.

Hemsky is still young. He's still growing. And he's still learning both on and off the ice.

Last season, Hemsky spent the lockout playing for his hometown club in Pardubice, scoring 13 goals and adding 18 assists for 31 points in 47 games. He also had a frightening off-ice experience when he was attacked by an unknown assailant in a Pardubice night club last December. His neck was slashed by a broken glass and he needed stitches to close a deep gash. He still bears those scars.

Despite the incident - which he says he has since put behind him - Hemsky made the most of his time with Pardubice.

"I had a great year," he said. "I got to play at home, and spend some time with friends and family. I had fun, it was a great time."

With six goals and 30 points in his rookie season, and 12 goals and 34 points the following year, Hemsky is looking to improve on those numbers this season. It'll mean he'll have to shoot the puck more often.

"I don't know," Hemsky said. "I expect to play well and help the team win some games.

"Every year I want to play well, so this is the same as every year. I don't have a certain number of goals that I want to get this year, I'm just going to go out there and play game after game and see what happens."

Entering his third NHL campaign, Hemsky is a lot more accustomed to his surroundings.

He's also no longer an unknown. Teams are aware he's one of the Oilers' most skilled players and will be ready for him.

"You look at it in three separate years for him," MacTavish said.

"The first year, he got away with a lot because he wasn't recognized. So he surprised a lot of people with the skill that he had.

"After that, defencemen knew that when he's coming down and he has the puck, you better keep an eye on his body. So he had less one-on-one success the second year. And this year, he's added the speed part of it and had a lot more success."

Playing on a line with Raffi Torres, centred by Michael Peca, Hemsky has a lot of confidence heading into the season.

"Any time you are two years older, you are going to get more confidence and more relaxed," Hemsky said. "I feel pretty good right now. Mike is a great player and he has been for a long time. He's a great passer and a great skater.

"And Tico (Torres) is a hard worker who can also score goals as well.

"So I'm going to go out there and enjoy it."


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