GRANDE PRAIRIE -- When it comes to interviews, Ales Hemsky is already in mid-season form.
Upon hearing that someone with a tape recorder needs five minutes, he drops the shoulders like someone just told him his dog died.
Next comes the heavy sigh, like you're asking to borrow one of his kidneys. Then he rolls the eyes in disbelief.
"Oh no,'' he says, trapped in his corner of the dressing room and realizing there is no way out. "Why do you want to talk to me?''
Why? How about because, when a lot of Edmonton's top players were leaving town, you committed yourself for the long term, signing a six-year contract when you would have been eligible for unrestricted free agency in three?
Or how about because you led the team in scoring last season for the first time and followed it up with the best hockey of your life in the playoffs?
How about because everyone believes you are on the threshold of greatness and this is probably the year you crack the NHL's upper stratosphere?
Or how about because we know you hate doing interviews and watching you complain about it is half the fun?
"Edmonton gave me a chance to play in the NHL. I have a lot of friends here and I'm happy here,'' said Hemsky, realizing he had no choice but to get the tooth-pulling over with. "So I wanted a long-term deal that was good for both sides.''
By locking in at this stage of his career, Hemsky risks leaving a lot of money on the table - if he becomes the edge-of-your-seat impact player everyone expects, he'll be worth a lot more than than $4 million a year his $24 million pact averages out to. But the way he sees it, the bigger risk is going somewhere else.
"I like the city, I like the fans, I like the hockey,'' said the young Czech, who made his presence felt early in the first day of training camp, undressing Dwayne Roloson 18 seconds into the opening scrimmage.
"It's a great locker room and a great coaching staff. And they gave me a chance to play in the NHL; I want to pay them back. I want to stay here for a long term. I'm happy with this deal.''
So are the Oilers. He led them in scoring with 77 points last season, then turned it up in the playoffs with gritty, clutch performances that had everyone believing the sky's the limit for this kid.
"We saw him last year he was just coming into his own,'' said GM Kevin Lowe. "But what really sealed my belief was how dominant he was in the playoffs at times. He can carry the puck like very few players in the NHL. He can go end to end. And he plays a fearless game, he's not the type of guy who gets intimidated out there.''
With another year under his belt, a wealth of invaluable playoff experience and the strongest supporting cast he's ever had at forward, is this the year he drops the jaws of an entire league?
"His full potential is limitless, there's not many people who have that collection of skill,'' said head coach Craig MacTavish. "He's a special player, there's no reason to think he can't be more productive than he was last year. He could be one of the best players in the game very easily.''
Hemsky knows what's expected of him this season. He expects it of himself, too.
"You always want to be better, that's the challenge,'' he said, adding the biggest strides in his game have been made between his ears.
"I think it's all about confidence, everything is in the head. If you're ready in your head you're ready for the game. It's my fifth year here and you settle down a little bit, you know how to play the game.''
Does he see himself becoming a marquee player in the NHL, up there with the Art Ross contenders and MVP candidates?
"I hope so,'' said the 23-year-old. "I hope so, but that's too far ahead. I just want to get a good start and go from there.''
Petr Sykora sees great things in store for his linemate and countryman.
"He got a taste of what it's like to be a winner last season and now he has it,'' said Sykora. "How good can he be? I don't really know, but I can tell you right now he's good already.''