Prime position

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

PHOENIX -- When opportunity knocks, it's best to answer.

Nobody needs to spell that out for Raffi Torres, who'll begin this season - one in which he's playing for a new contract - slotted alongside Petr Sykora and Ales Hemsky on Craig MacTavish's second line.

That's where the rambunctious redhead, coming off a 27-goal season, has spent training camp and pre-season. That's where Torres played last night against the Phoenix Coyotes at Glendale Arena, where he'll play against the Vancouver Canucks tomorrow and where he'll line up when the puck drops for keeps against the Calgary Flames Thursday.

Knock. Knock. Can Raffi come out to play?

'GREAT OPPORTUNITY'

"It's a great opportunity," Torres said. "I'm going to get the puck a lot. Those guys are two talented players.

"You could put pretty much anybody on our team on that left side with two guys like that and you're going get chances to put the puck in the net. I'm in a great situation. I've got to be ready to play."

Torres, who'll turn 25 Oct. 8, wasn't the first player fans thought MacTavish might put with Sykora, a seven-time 20-goal man, and Hemsky, coming off a career season with 77 points. But he's the right player.

The trio - a mix of Torres's physicality and headlong rushes to the net, Hemsky's puck-handling and Sykora's knack for being at the right place at the right time - has been dynamite since camp opened.

"I'm going to have to bring a little bit extra, an all-around game, to be successful," said Torres, who'll keep opponents honest with his knack for knocking somebody's block off with a wicked hit.

"When I'm being physical, all the other stuff falls into place. They aren't looked on as physical, but their skill and hockey sense takes over. They've had guys trying to hit them and get under their skin their whole lives as players. I know what my job is with those guys.

"I've got to get that puck and get it to those guys. I've got to let them do their thing and get open."

THAT LINE WILL BE 1B

Torres, Sykora and Hemsky aren't so much a second line to MacTavish's top threesome of Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff and Joffrey Lupul as they are a 1B option.

While MacTavish isn't setting his lines in stone - he never does - he's intrigued enough to let the experiment with this continue at least through the start of the season.

"Raffi is an opportunist," MacTavish said. "You don't really get the sense that, 'Wow, he's really on his game today. I have to get him out there.'

"But he gets an opportunity and he produces. That's his game. He's a guy who, given the puck in the right spots, can put it in the net a lot more proficiently than anybody else on our team."

Torres scored his 27 goals, second only to Smyth's 36 last season, while averaging just 13:23 of ice time. What might he do with 16 or 17 minutes a night? We'll find out.

"My mindset, and it's going to fall on Raffi to justify it, is to make sure he's getting more than he was used to last year," MacTavish said.

"I've got to give him more ice time so he can be the benefactor of that opportunity."

If Torres, who'll earn $925,000 this season, can match what he did in 2005-06 or improve on it, he'll be in the money. The Oilers, meanwhile, will have as prolific a one-two punch with their top two lines as any team in the NHL.

"It's a good time for me to have a big, breakout season," smiles Torres, knowing what's at stake.

"Not that that's the most important thing. I can help the team out in ways I've just started to in the past.

"Anything's possible playing with those two guys. I know I'm going to get my chances."


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