Edmonton boy makes good

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

He should be a bricklayer, working for his old man's construction company by now. An accountant, even.

What Fernando Pisani shouldn't be, at least based on the odds and the other long shots who were selected in the eighth round of the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, is drawing a pay cheque with the Edmonton Oilers.

As appreciated in the Oilers dressing room as he is unheralded around the NHL, Pisani will take the ice against the Minnesota Wild tonight just like he always does - without much fanfare, but as one of the players coach Craig MacTavish can send through the gate knowing he will get the job, whatever it might be, done.

UNSUNG HERO

A hometown boy made good is Pisani, who is among the Oilers leaders in a handful of statistical categories and is the clear-cut team leader in unsung hero votes - Ethan Moreau's don't-even-think-of-getting-in-my-way glare and Rocket Richard routine have garnered him much ink and taken him out of contention for the honour.

Just the way Pisani likes it.

"I just kind of go out there and do my thing," shrugs the modest Pisani, who will face Minnesota at Rexall Place tonight on a six-game points streak after scoring the Oilers only goal in a 4-1 loss to the Wild Monday.

"I've been fortunate enough to play with good linemates and that's why we're getting the production."

MacTavish has been a fan of Pisani's pretty much since he was summoned from Hamilton of the AHL 41 games into the 2002-03 season.

GROWS ON YOU

It would be fair to say many of us - me included - didn't get it. Those of us who don't understand the game and its subtleties the way MacTavish does are only now starting to figure it out. Pisani grows on you.

Pisani, 28, leads the Oilers in plus-minus at plus-13. He's sixth in team scoring with 11 goals and 20 points. Only Jarret Stoll, Ryan Smyth and Raffi Torres have lit the lamp more often. Pisani has two game-winning goals. As a bonus, he even showed up on Monday, leaving him in exclusive company, indeed.

"He's a well-kept secret," MacTavish said. "He's in the right place all the time. He makes the right plays in all three zones. He has significant finish. He shoots the puck very well.

"He's a very, very complete player. A very dependable player. He's maybe as underrated a player as there is in the game. We just have to keep giving him an opportunity. The more ice time he gets the better he plays."

Pisani, Moreau and Marty Reasoner, the RPM Line, have been MacTavish's most consistent trio through a tidy 18-game roll that has seen the team take points in 15 games, despite Monday's clunker.

To understate, Pisani's ascent has been impressive for somebody drafted 195th overall.

Fact is, he's one of just nine players from the eighth round in 1996 who has played an NHL game. Minnesota's Willie Mitchell, by the way, is another from the same round who's made it.

"I can't speak to where he came from," MacTavish said.

"I don't have the huge background on Fernando, other than what we've seen since we got him here. From the outset, he's been a pretty complete player, an intelligent player."

With two seasons in St. Albert of the AJHL, one in which he tallied 103 points with the Saints, four more at Providence and then 172 games with Hamilton over three seasons, Pisani has paid his dues.

MORE TIME TO DEVELOP

"It gave me a little more time to develop my game and get a little stronger and faster," said Pisani, who waited more than six years after his draft day to wear Oilers silks for the first time.

Pisani's a third-liner by trade, but he's talented enough to fill in on the first or second line and versatile enough to play on the power play or kill penalties. The bottom line is he delivers a lot in 13 or 14 minutes a night.

"You always have hopes you can make the NHL," he said. "It's something you work hard to do. I had confidence in myself I could make the jump.

"Once you get that opportunity, you have to make the most of it."


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