SUN Hockey Pool

Going 77 miles an hour

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

Tom Gilbert got a taste of what the NHL was like last season as an end-of-the-year call-up.

And even though he learned a harsh lesson on the dangers of skating with your head down, Gilbert had no intention of starting this year in the AHL. He won't.

IN THE BIGS NOW

Instead the Minneapolis native will be in the Edmonton Oilers lineup when the 2007-2008 season gets underway tonight against the San Jose Sharks at Rexall Place.

"It's nice to be up here right now and start the season here," Gilbert said.

"I still feel like a rookie, and I know I definitely have a lot to learn.

"Getting a chance to play here last year makes it a little less stressful this year, but at the same time, I can't slow my game down. I have to prove myself and I have to earn my spot on this team and just get better every day."

Gilbert, 24, made the team despite some intense competition on the Oilers blue-line.

With the signing of veteran Sheldon Souray, and the acquisition of Denis Grebeshkov and Joni Pitkanen, competition for the remaining four roster spots was fierce.

There was talk the Oilers were thinking of carrying eight defencemen to start the year due to the abundance of talent.

They head into tomorrow's game with seven.

"He's got a real head for the game, he follows the play up ice well and it can't be understated how valuable that is to have defencemen jump up on the play at appropriate times," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.

"If you can't read the right time to go you can get victimized from it, but he really has a sense of when to join the play. He's a good skater and I thought the way he played through camp deserved him an opportunity to play."

Gilbert played 12 games with the Oilers last season, scoring a goal and adding five assists.

However, in his third game with the Oilers Gilbert suffered a concussion after getting drilled by Columbus Blue Jackets forward Jody Shelley.

Gilbert missed 13 games with a concussion on a hit he can't remember taking.

GONE AND FORGOTTEN

"It doesn't cross my mind, I'm not afraid to go into the corners again," he said. "I learned my lesson. I felt it, but I have no idea what happened after it. So it's not something that's haunting me because I have no idea what happened.

"It's just something that I learned from watching video of that I have to keep my head up when I'm coming around the net."


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