SUN Hockey Pool

Ducks walk away

KEN WIEBE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:26 AM ET

So long, Southern California. Hello, City of Champions.

The price of cashing in with a big contract has proven to be a significant one as Dustin Penner won't have the opportunity to defend the Stanley Cup this season.

But he'll now be a key cog as the Edmonton Oilers look to get back to the playoffs after making it to the Stanley Cup finals in 2006 but missing out on the post-season party this past spring.

Penner officially became a member of the Oilers yesterday when Anaheim Ducks general manager Brian Burke decided not to match the five-year, $21.25-million offer sheet Edmonton made to the power forward from Winkler.

'NO RESERVATIONS'

Penner was an important, yet complementary part with the Ducks but now he'll be the highest paid forward and the second highest paid player on the Oilers, behind recent free agent signing Sheldon Souray.

He made the league minimum $450,000 last year.

"I'm going to face this challenge like I've faced any other one of them in my life," Penner said during a conference call yesterday. "I'm going to get in the best shape I can here and just play hockey. I have no reservations about being able to succeed.

"The pressure I receive from the media and the fans won't be near the pressure of what I put on myself to be the best player I can be. I know I didn't peak as a player last year. I don't know what my potential is but in the next five years, I'll find out."

The 6-foot-4, 245-pound left-winger is going to a new city -- a hockey mad city with plenty of rich history -- and one where the expectations of making more than $4 million per season will be high on the 24-year-old.

"I think a lot of people look at the salary and the average based on what he was making last year, then they see it as a pretty big raise," said Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe. "The way I see it, if Dustin continues to score goals at the clip that he's been, at some point in this contract, he's going to be highly underpaid.

"We have to take risks in this business and I'm not suggesting this is a risk. We make our assessments on player's abilities, where they are in the careers, the person they are and the drive that they have.

"Dustin is a tough player, we played against him enough to know that he's a tough player to contain. We see him as a player that can compliment some of the forwards that we have that can hang on to the puck. Having that big frame with those soft hands is certainly an attractive thing in the new NHL."

There are some things about Anaheim Penner's going to miss, but he embraces the road ahead.

"You definitely grow attached to the team that first gives you an opportunity to get into the league. They helped me develop as a player and hopefully I'm not done developing and that this is just another step in the right direction," said Penner, who scored 29 goals and 45 points while playing in all 82 games last season.

"I'm excited to be in a position where I become accountable to be a go-to guy. Hopefully, I can do that and I'm excited about the challenge.

"It really didn't become that nerve-racking until the last 24 hours. Now you look forward and look to the future."

Penner, who was signed by the Ducks in 2004 after a strong season at the University of Maine, got a taste of what it can be like playing in Edmonton during the second round of the NHL playoffs in 2006 and looks forward to wearing the colours of the home side.

"With the atmosphere they have there, it's very exciting for a player to play in that situation even if you're on the visiting team," he said. "It's always been a dream of mine to play in the NHL and once you play in the NHL, you always kind of wonder and envy the guys who play in Canada."

Penner won't have to wonder or envy any longer.

Burke is a big fan of Penner but felt the price of keeping him was too high, so he took the compensation instead.

"We're going to take three draft picks (a first, a second and a third in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft) back and given Kevin's recent performance I expect them to be excellent picks," Burke said during a conference call.


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