SUN Hockey Pool

Dustin off the rust

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

Dustin Penner can probably feel more assured heading into the regular season now that he potted an exhibition goal.

It took a healthy ticket to pry Penner out of Anaheim and prior to scoring against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday all he had to show for it was one assist in three games.

"It's coming along," Penner said following Saturday's 5-4 loss to the Canucks. "I definitely feel a lot better than I did at the start of preseason. Hopefully it just keeps getting a lot better once the regular season starts."

As one of the Oilers' high-priced off-season acquisitions, the spotlight will shine brightly on Penner all year - especially considering he'll start on the top line with Ales Hemsky.

"I thought he got involved more physically (Saturday) and that's something that we've talked to him about," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "He started skating with the puck a little bit more as well."

Penner can probably be excused for his less-than-stellar preseason. He did after all play into June last year winning the Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks.

Then there were the obligatory celebrations that come with claiming hockey's biggest prize.

"Obviously after winning the Cup we didn't work out for a while, we did a little celebrating," Penner said.

LATE START

"So I didn't get to the weight room as soon as I did the previous season. But that being said, it's hard to get out of shape when you play that long."

Physically Penner should be fine. It's finding the chemistry with Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff on the first line which might take some time.

Hemsky and Horcoff know each other well. It's a matter of Penner getting up to speed with them.

"It's coming along," Penner said. "I have to be a little more aware on the ice when I'm with him (Hemsky) because he can find you in the small seams.

"You have to be ready at all times with a guy like that because good things will happen."

Last year Penner, 25, scored 29 goals and added 16 assists in 82 regular-season games for the Ducks. He added three goals and five assists in 21 playoff games.

This summer the Oilers tendered a five-year, $21.25-million offer sheet to the restricted free agent. It was an offer the Ducks refused to match.

Now heading into the regular season, which begins Thursday against the San Jose Sharks, the Oilers are hoping to get a good return on their investment.

"When he gets in on the forecheck and knocks somebody down, you see the amount of ice he opens up," MacTavish said.

"That's got to be something that is a constant in his game where he gets his feet moving and he finishes his checks."

At six-foot-four, 245 pounds, Penner is one of the biggest players on the Oilers roster.

What makes him so valuable are the soft hands that go along with his size.

MAKE SOME ROOM

His presence alone should open up room for Hemsky to dangle.

"That's part of my game," Penner said. "I realize with my size you have to utilize it and that's a big part of it, controlling rebounds, getting the puck in the corner and getting it to my linemates."

Getting the puck to Hemsky will be a key to Penner's success. Converting the numerous opportunities he's sure to get playing with the Oilers most talented player is another.

"I think that he played well (Saturday) and he's ready to start the season," MacTavish said.

"He's right where we want him to be."


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