Penner becoming long-term project

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:07 AM ET

Dustin Penner didn't participate in yesterday's optional practice.

He took the day off.

Which begs the question: How does he take the day off when he took the night before off?

Penner did absolutely nothing for 19 minutes and 13 seconds of ice time while most eyes were on Sidney Crosby.

Twenty-nine games into the season and the six-foot-four 250-pound native of Winkler, Man., who scored 29 goals and won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks last year -- and then was made a set-for-life multi-millionaire by Kevin Lowe as a restricted free agent in the off-season -- becomes more and more of a study with the Edmonton Oilers.

It wasn't so much that Penner had such an empty effort against the Penguins. He's had several of those this season.

CONTRAST

It was the contrast to the terrific two games he had in Anaheim and Los Angeles coming into the game.

Finally, in those two games, particularly the one in L.A., Penner was every ounce the player Lowe expected him to become.

He was a physical force, skating with plenty of perspiration and even some inspiration as he made things happen. He was a player!

Against the Penguins? None of the above.

You look at these young Oilers and think of what could happen here if they all realize their potential: Ales Hemsky, Andrew Cogliano, Sam Gagner, Tom Gilbert, Kyle Brodziak, Robert Nilsson, Jarret Stoll, Joni Pitkanen, Denis Grebeshkov, Ladislav Smid, Matt Greene, Patrick Thoresen, Allan Rourke. And more young guns who haven't even made their way here yet.

But how many of them will? And will one of them be Penner?

If you expected Craig MacTavish to spew some venom his way after the non-effort against Pittsburgh coming off those two exceptional games in California, forget it.

There's going to be no public flogging of this fellow.

"He didn't get as much done as he did in L.A.," MacTavish conceded.

But the Oilers coach makes it clear he's not going to try to motivate Penner with negatives.

"I have very high hopes for him long term. There's nothing he can't do.

"He's a late developer. He has a lot of great Oiler qualities in him. He's developing a work ethic and he has good coachability.

"He's going to be a good Oiler for a lot of years"

MacTavish likes the big guy's work ethic, too.

"Pens, for me, is a guy I have a lot of time for," he said of all the work Penner has put in since the start of the season to bring his weight down and going from an average of 11 minutes of ice time per game earlier in the season to an average of 20 minutes in the last three games.

BACK-TO-BACK

Penner has six goals and eight assists for 14 points so far this season, including goals in back-to-back games on the road trip.

Linemate and interim captain Shawn Horcoff says he's good with Penner.

"He's a little bit of a work in progress," he said. "It's not easy to play like he did in L.A. every night. That's real tough to do. But he has potential to do that. You have to remember he's essentially in his second year in the league. You have to be patient.

"I think he's going to be there. This year? Maybe not. But by the second half of next year ..."

MacTavish says the coaching challenge "is to create the culture in the player."

He knows Penner has a lot of built-in pressure to deal with here, and that there's going to be criticism.

"I very much support him. With the amount of work he's been asked to do off the ice, some nights he doesn't have his legs," he revealed.

"I don't want to criticize him right now when he's doing everything we're asking him to do.

"It's not something you just add water to and it's going to blossom."

Add some sweat, and maybe it will.


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