SUN Hockey Pool

Winchester improving

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:23 AM ET

PHOENIX -- Better late than never.

Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish knows exactly what he wants from fourth-line forward Brad Winchester - sound defensive work and physical play, for starters - but there were times during pre-season he wondered if he was ever going to get it.

It took six or seven games into the regular season, but Winchester is delivering what the boss expects, and the big winger's increasing ice time has been reflecting it.

"He's way better," said MacTavish. "As I said the other night, he's making it a lot easier to put him out there.

"When he struggles, he exposes the puck lots. At this level, if you're hanging the puck out in the defenceman's checking range unprotected, it's called a breakout for the opposition. He's protected the puck very well the last few games and they've created a lot off the cycle."

Winchester, 25, didn't do much during pre-season to warrant even starting the year on the opening day 23-man roster, but MacTavish stuck with him and it's starting to pay off.

While Winchester went into last night's game with Phoenix with just one assist on the ledger, he's been a bigger factor - like in Wednesday's 6-2 loss to Anaheim, when he dropped the gloves with Shane O'Brien.

He's gone from playing 32 seconds into the Oilers opener against Calgary to 9:39 in a 3-1 win over Detroit last Saturday to 10:15 against the Ducks.

"Through camp, I was continuing to try to find my game," admits Winchester.

"Once the regular season started, I feel like I've taken steps to becoming more of a consistent player.

"I've definitely been trying to build on that."

Winchester's been throwing his weight around of late, and at six-foot-five and 220 pounds, he's got a lot to throw around. When Winchester's taking the body and working the corners with gusto, he's an asset.

"It's more than just the hitting," Winchester said. "It's more playing the corners well and controlling the puck."

A fixture on right wing alongside Marty Reasoner, Winchester had J.F. Jacques on the left side against Anaheim and again last night against the Coyotes.


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