SUN Hockey Pool

Nilsson knows the score

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:22 AM ET

For a short while there, it looked like ex-Oiler Ryan Smyth would play more game in Edmonton this year than the two guys he was traded for.

Smyth and the Colorado Avalanche are scheduled for four games in Edmonton this year, while Ryan O'Marra is down in Stockton and Robert Nilsson got in all of three home games before getting shipped to Springfield.

Not the best of starts for the returns in one of Kevin Lowe's most controversial moves, but Nilsson is getting another opportunity to make himself, and his GM, look good.

"It's fun to be up here again, to get another chance," said the 22-year-old winger, recalled from Springfield in time to face the Nashville Predators tonight. "I'm going to try to be up here a little longer this time."

Nilsson sparkled in his first audition, earning high praise in training camp and regular ice when the season began. He looked like he was here for good.

But two weeks in he hit a wall -- didn't create anything offensively and wasn't much of a deterrent defensively. So back to the minors he went.

It was another deflating lesson for a kid who just can't seem to turn his natural ability into a full-time NHL gig.

"It's not the first time (being demoted) for me," said Nilsson, who was yo-yoed between Long Island and Bridgeport in his two seasons with the Isles.

"I've been up and down the last two years now. It's hard."

He still can't pinpoint what went wrong the first time around.

"I don't know ... I have no idea. But I'm going to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Craig MacTavish would like to see him relax, take what the opposition gives him and follow the golden rule -- don't give up more than you get.

"He's highly skilled, that much is obvious," said the coach.

"He can capitalize on opportunities other guys can't ... it's just a case of getting the consistency every shift, and the reliability that you need to establish yourself.

"You have to build the trust in the coaches to put you out in different situations."

He also knows that with so many young players vying for spots on the Oilers, the leashes are shorter this year.

Ask J.F. Jacques or Rob Schremp.

"You have to compete harder because if you have a couple of bad games, maybe not bad games, but if you don't work as hard as you should, then it's an opportunity for you to be sent down," said the 15th pick in the 2003 draft.

"That's a good thing to have in mind."

In his case, fear of going back to the AHL is a strong motivator.

"Exactly," he said. "This is the last year of my contract. This is my third year (pro). This is where you want to be. I don't want to be in the minors anymore."

The Oilers, desperate for anything resembling offence or a power play, will start Nilsson on a line with Jarret Stoll and Andrew Cogliano and give him time with the man advantage. What he does with the opportunity is up to him.

"It's just a case of putting (the demotion) behind him, just go play the game," said MacTavish. "Both ends of the ice, both sides of the puck, just play hard, put all that stuff behind you and establish yourself.

"He's got a lot of offence, but at times in this league you're going to struggle to find open ice. When that happens, just play the game and be more patient. That's the thing that'll keep him here. Once he figures that out he'll be here for a long time.

"There's no reason why he should ever be back in the minors. He just has to make that conscious decision."


Videos

Photos