SUN Hockey Pool

The Shooter

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:04 AM ET

In an off-season when it seemed like free agents and hen-pecked defencemen couldn't get out of town fast enough, Petr Sykora saved the summer.

It hadn't been a total write-off - existing free agents Dwayne Roloson and Fernando Pisani chose to stay, and Joffrey Lupul came over in the Chris Pronger trade - but Edmonton's ego still took a serious body shot.

Gape-mouthed, reeling and hurt after a player exodus of alarming proportions, Oilers fans desperately needed to see a high-end free agent pick them.

Someone, anyone, who could bring talent to the team, positive affirmation to the city and hope to the fans.

Then along came Petr Sykora, just when they needed him most.

"Edmonton is one of the places I've always liked as a hockey city," said the only player in the Oilers dressing room with a Stanley Cup ring. "So I was pretty excited when the opportunity came to come and play here."

He was excited? He should have seen Edmonton.

Not only did they add somebody, but they added somebody who had the best one-timer on the team, an established track record in the playoffs (he's been to three finals and his 22 points in Jersey's 2001 playoff run were the second- most in franchise history) and someone who elevated their crop of forwards from very good to scary good.

"He has a terrific shot and he gives us that much more up front," general manager Kevin Lowe said, looking over the offensive riches in training camp.

"We already had some pretty good players up front, they proved themselves in the playoffs when it's hardest to score, so to add a couple of guys like Sykora and Lupul gives us the kind of options we haven't had in a while."

Sykora, who spent three summers in Edmonton as a teenager, saw enough of it then, and on television when the Oilers were turning the town and the league upside-down with their playoff drive, that he wanted back.

"I love to play with the kind of guys they have on this team," he said, looking around the room and shaking his head at the available talent.

"They are young and they have chemistry going. They had something special going last year and when I had an opportunity to be part of it, I didn't wait."

He's striking some chemistry of his own with Ales Hemsky.

The slick and shifty setup man and the sniper with the laser-beam shot were lighting it up in training camp and have the potential to do a lot of damage this season.

"Those two are as dangerous as any two players in the league," grinned Raffi Torres, pencilled in as the line's left winger.

"They're exciting to watch."

"Playing with a guy like Hemmer is easy," said the soon-to-be 30-year old.

"He always wants the puck and he always wants to skate it in, so it's not difficult to get used to him. You just have to know where he is. I try to get the puck to him and look for a pass in the slot."

Whether they stay together will depend in large part on Sykora's ability to master the faceoff circle.

The natural right winger, moved over to centre to play with right-winger Hemsky, needs work there. "It's something I'm working on," he said.

But if he has to move positions, or lines, he says there's enough raw talent here to make the transition easy.

That's why he came in the first place.

"There's probably six or seven forwards who can play on the first line," he said. "When you have so many offensive minded players on a team like this it doesn't matter who's out there - anybody can play with anybody here.

"That's where I want to be."


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