The Talent

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:07 AM ET

The Hem-sky is the limit.

And this could be the year Edmonton's most exciting player finally touches the clouds.

Year by year we've watched Ales Hemsky blossom, from an 18-year-old who gave flashes of brilliance alongside nervous rookie mistakes to the dazzling 23-year-old who brings us to the edge of our seat almost every time he touches the puck.

And now, older, wiser, stronger, more confident and surrounded by the best group of forwards he's ever seen, Hemsky looks more than ready to join the NHL's elite.

"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."

That much is becoming obvious. Hemsky, who led the Oilers in scoring last season with a career high 77 points, turned it up a notch in the playoffs and is picking up right where he left off.

He's a handful one-on-one, he doesn't shy away when the going gets tough, he has a knack for scoring clutch goals and when he has the puck in full stride you can almost see the opposition defencemen sweat.

And all that was before he struck up the instant chemistry with linemate and fellow Czech Petr Sykora - a seemingly perfect marriage between shooter and passer.

"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's getting more and more confident all the time. He plays a fearless game ... he's not the type of guy who gets intimidated out there."

Rather, he's the player who intimidates others with his skill.

"There's no reason to think he can't be more productive than he was last year," said MacTavish. "He could be one of the best players in the game very easily."

That's the plan.

"You always want to be better, that's the challenge," said Hemsky, who credits much of his development to simple maturity.

"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."

And thanks to his fondness for Edmonton, there are six more years to come in Oilers colours.

In a strong commitment to the city and the program, Hemsky passed up unrestricted free agency in three years to sign a six-year, $24-million contract.

"Edmonton gave me a chance to play in the NHL, I have a lot of friends here and I'm happy here," he shrugged.

"So I wanted a long-term deal that was good for both sides. I like the city, I like the fans, I like the hockey.

"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 the long term."


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