Scoring a surprise

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 1:40 PM ET

The book on Jarret Stoll when the Edmonton Oilers selected him at the expense of the Calgary Flames with the 36th pick in the 2002 entry draft was relatively straightforward.

Most hockey people, Central Scouting and the Oilers included, had the former Kootenay Ice captain pegged as a two-way forward. Stoll was a player with very good, but not remarkable, offensive skills who projected as a reliable third- or fourth-line player.

Factor in gamesmanship, maturity and leadership, and the Oilers figured Stoll was a sure bet to play in the NHL, even if he lacked the silky skating stride long a prerequisite in Edmonton.

A safe pick was Stoll, who'd originally been taken 46th by the Flames in 2000, but ended up back in the draft when he couldn't come to terms in Cowtown and an attempt to ship him to Toronto didn't get done.

Stoll delivered as expected in his first full season with the Oilers in 2003-04, but here we are 27 games into this season and the Melville native has gone from safe to sometimes spectacular, from sure thing to superb. Stoll is second in team scoring with 10-14-24. He's better than anyone bargained for.

TIME TO RE-THINK

It's time to re-think his top end.

"It's a little surprising," said Stoll, who scored two goals in a 5-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks Thursday. "It's just getting that opportunity, and I've been put in every opportunity you can imagine.

"Just being put in that situation gives me that confidence. It's a little surprising, but I knew I could do the job if I got the chance."

Stoll, 23, who finished fourth in WHL scoring in 2000-01 with 40-66-106, sipped from the Memorial Cup with the Ice in 2002, then worked his way into Craig MacTavish's lineup after a year in the minors with Hamilton.

After 21 points as a rookie and 38 points and an MVP nod with the Road Runners in the AHL during the lockout, MacTavish figured Stoll fit in his mix down the middle behind Shawn Horcoff and Michael Peca.

"He's much further along than what I anticipated," MacTavish said. "You can't underestimate the importance of the year he had last year, as much as it would have been a tough year for him.

"He got a lot of experience playing the point on the power play and playing in a lot of offensive situations. From the outset, really, it's translated into success at this level."

By revisiting a more offensive role with the Road Runners, often in tandem with linemate Raffi Torres, Stoll came to training camp convinced he was capable of bettering the numbers he had as a rookie.

"I think that helped a little bit," said Stoll, who is playing with Torres and Radek Dvorak. "Maybe a couple of years ago, I didn't think I had to score. Coming into games this year, I want to score. I'm thinking more offensively."

RESPECTABLE ONE-TWO PUNCH

As it stands, Horcoff, who has surpassed all expectations with 25 points, and Stoll are providing MacTavish a respectable one-two punch at pivot. Stoll is as reliable defensively as always, but his offence and his NHL-leading 64.2% on faceoffs are dimensions that weren't expected.

"I didn't want to be labelled as a defensive player," Stoll said. "I want to be a good all-around player who can contribute on both sides of the puck in any situation during the game.

"That's what's going on right now. I'm happy with the way I'm playing. There's 55 games left, so I have to keep it going."

With his pair against Vancouver - Stoll missed a chance for his first NHL hat-trick into an empty net when his stick broke - there's no reason to think that, with bolstered confidence, continued chemistry with Torres and more time on the power play, he can't push 30 goals.

Of course, Stoll laughs out loud at that suggestion.

"I don't know," he said. "I just want to keep it going."

Think again, kid. We are.


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