SUN Hockey Pool

Skill wins out over size

Dan Syvret is now the Edmonton Oilers' seventh defenceman after impressing head coach Craig...

Dan Syvret is now the Edmonton Oilers' seventh defenceman after impressing head coach Craig MacTavish. (Edmonton Sun/Jason Franson)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

The long and the short of it was too obvious to miss: Five-foot-11 defenceman Dan Syvret is progressing so well that six-foot-six defenceman Alexei Semenov became easily expendable.

The trade that sent Semenov to the Florida Panthers for the relatively low asking price of a conditional draft pick Saturday says as much about the 20-year-old rookie as the giant he supplanted.

"When you saw, with all our injury problems, that we still didn't go to Semmy, it showed where (Syvret) probably was on the depth chart," said head coach Craig MacTavish, who's seen enough of Syvret's skill set and mind for the game to let him grow in the NHL.

'NOT PAYING A PRICE'

"We're not paying a price for his development. Based on what we've seen so far, he's quite likely going to be a player who can really help us in the not too distant future. He's a heady player. He's going to be a quick study from what I've seen so far."

MacTavish didn't have any qualms about throwing Syvret into just about any situation.

The same couldn't be said for Semenov, who wasn't playing -- a healthy scratch in 11 of 22 games this year -- and wasn't getting any better in the press box. "I didn't have a lot of hope that Semmy was going to get to where we needed him," said the coach.

"He just wasn't doing, in our minds, what he had to do to play."

When the moves came -- Semenov's departure and Dan Smith's reassignment to Hamilton -- Syvret did the math and realized he was one of Edmonton's seven NHL defencemen.

"I'm going to try to make the best of it and keep trying to improve every game," he said, adding the new, free-flowing NHL has really opened the door for smaller, more mobile players.

"The game definitely helps smaller, skilled, agile players. It gets rid of all the big guys who can clutch and grab and are good in the D-zone because they're big bodies. Now you can't do that or you'll be sitting in the box.

"It's all about body positioning and foot speed and footwork and knowing the game -- and that all falls into the category of the way I've been playing for the last 20 years."

MacTavish agrees. Edmonton has a lot of reliable muscle in Jason Smith, Steve Staios and Cory Cross, but today's game calls for a lot more dash to go with the bash.

"We have an element of our defence that's really hard physically. We need puck moving ability," said MacTavish, who could use another playmaker to go with Chris Pronger and Marc-Andre Bergeron.

"We've gone that route before -- where you get a bunch of guys who are reliable and are going to bang it up the boards and you play 15 minutes out the period when you're defending the lead, in your own end. You have to have somebody who can get out there and move the puck, and that's where Syvret excels -- he can make a play."

IN AND OUT

He'll be in and out of the lineup when Cory Cross comes off the IR any day now, but it beats the minors. He's been sent down before, straight out of training camp, and doesn't care for it much.

"I thought I had a good training camp," he said. "It was a little frustrating, but the team was kind of handcuffed with numbers. I was fortunate to get a chance to be called up (after injuries to Cross, Bergeron and Igor Ulanov) and I just tried to make the best of it.

"I think it's all about opportunity."

LATE HITS ... MacTavish is thinking long and hard about giving Mike Morrison the start against San Jose. Jussi Markkanen hasn't been great in his last three starts (two hooks and a 6-5 win), while Morrison's been excellent in the limited action he's seen, going all the way back to camp.


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