SUN Hockey Pool

These kids don't cave

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

When Jarret Stoll was a rookie, getting his skate in the door as a safe, reliable, thinking man's hockey player, management compared him to a young Craig MacTavish.

Turns out they were aiming a little low.

Not to denigrate MacTavish's accomplishments - you don't last 17 NHL seasons and win four Stanley Cups on good looks - but with an upside that's growing almost as quickly as his numbers, Stoll has it all over his coach in raw talent.

"I'm sure he potted a few goals in his career," grinned Stoll, who already has a career high 14 at the halfway mark of the season. "I'm obviously happy, playing in every situation, getting a lot of ice time, 18 or 19 minutes. A lot of young guys are having career years and it's showing in the standings for our club."

OFFENSIVE ELEMENTS

While much has been made, and rightfully so, of Chris Pronger, Ryan Smyth and the rest of the Edmonton's marquee veterans, a youth movement led by Stoll, Raffi Torres, Ales Hemsky, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Shawn Horcoff has made just as big an impact.

"You can't have the success if you don't have that type of offensive element and those guys are giving it to us," said MacTavish.

"I wasn't expecting him to be as good as he is and I don't see him backing off at all. He's the biggest surprise for me. He's come a great distance and he's going to be a real star at this level."

Stoll can still play the safe, reliable mini-Mac role when necessary, but now he's complementing it with a point-a-game production, power play work that's helped vault Edmonton to 7th in the NHL, and one of the best faceoff percentages in the game.

"I thought he'd battle Marty (Reasoner) for third and fourth line," said MacTavish. "Well, he's one of the better centres in the conference right now. You see it from the minutes he plays, the situations that he plays. He shoots the puck, he takes faceoffs, he kills penalties, he kills five on threes, he plays the point on the power play. There's nothing he can't do."

And to think how close he came to being a Flame. The former Calgary draft pick (46th overall in 2000), couldn't come to terms on a contract and they parted ways over a difference of about $250,000. So he re-entered the 2002 draft and wound up in Edmonton.

"You don't add that element every day," said MacTavish. "It's a hell of an ingredient and one of the main reasons we're where we are right now."

A go-to guy on the ice and an emerging spokesman in the dressing room, Stoll is happy with how it all worked out, too.

"I just want to be a good all around player - good on both sides of the puck, good on draws, kill penalties," he said, wearing a hockey face - a long fresh scar on his cheek and missing front tooth - that tells you he isn't afraid to pay the price. "All those things that are important for a team."

DEDICATION, PROFESSIONALISM

That kind of dedication and professionalism has been handed down from the likes of Smyth, Ethan Moreau, Jason Smith and Steve Staios.

"I think most of it has to do with the veterans we have on this team," said Stoll, who hasn't missed a game this season. "We have great team guys who will do anything for the win. Some teams that are inconsistent, it's because their core group of guys don't bring it every night. The veterans in this room set a great example for us."

And it helps that all these kids are developing in a successful environment.

"That may be the single most important element in the rest of our years," said MacTavish. "Players like Horcoff, Stoll, Hemsky, Torres, Bergeron, those guys have added crucial elements to our team, and now they're getting a sniff of how successful they can be."


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