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Horcoff silencing doubters

Edmonton Oilers' Shawn Horcoff (10) chases down Vancouver Canucks' Willie Mitchell during the...

Edmonton Oilers' Shawn Horcoff (10) chases down Vancouver Canucks' Willie Mitchell during the second period of NHL play at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alta., on Saturday December 15, 2007. (Sun Media/Darryl Dyck)

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:50 AM ET

The calls questioning his ability to be a first-line centre have subsided.

With the season he's putting together, Shawn Horcoff is not only proving he can be the Edmonton Oilers top centre, but he'd make a pretty good first line guy on a lot of other teams as well.

It's a shame his name is not on the all-star ballot.

"He's playing with a ton of confidence and I don't think people realized the potential that he has," said Oilers forward Fernando Pisani. "He's a first-line centreman and he's showing it. He's playing well, working hard and making plays.

"He and Hemmer (Ales Hemsky) are working well with each other. That line is a big part of our success, they're putting up big numbers and scoring goals. We're relying heavily on those guys to score goals when we need them."

In Saturday's 2-1 shootout victory over the Vancouver Canucks, Horcoff was once again front and centre.

He scored the goal that broke a scoreless tie late in the third period. Then, with his team needing a goal in the shootout to stay alive, Horcoff picked the top corner on Canucks goaltender Curtis Sanford, setting the stage for Pisani to win it.

"It's funny, because before he went in, we were talking about where he was going to go," Pisani said. "He pretty much knew where he was shooting, from the outset he told me he was going top shelf.

"He's got a lot of confidence right now and it shows in his play."

Horcoff now has 16 goals on the year. Only 11 other players in the league have more.

Among centres only two -- Vincent Lecavalier and Olli Jokinen -- have found the net more often.

"He's just having an unbelievable season," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "A lot of it is predicated on the work that he puts in. He's such a complete player and such a great example for our young guys on how to condition yourself- he's one of the best conditioned guys that we have."

Horcoff, 29, has been with the Oilers for the past seven seasons. And every season his abilities to lead the team offensively have come into question.

But he keeps proving his doubters wrong and has made those callers who were whining about the Oilers lack of a first-line centre at the start of the season eat their words and head back to their parent's basement.

Horcoff has more goals then Sidney Crosby, Daniel Briere, Joe Thornton and Pavel Datsyuk.

With his regulation goal against the Canucks, he now has at least a point in nine of his last 10 games. His shootout marker made him a perfect four-for-four in the tiebreaker this season.

"He's shooting the puck now," said MacTavish. "He gets that opportunity and he puts it in the back of the net. He's got a lot of confidence in his shot. He's playing banged up too, so that's another testament to how he's playing."

Horcoff has more goals at this point of the season than he scored all of last year. He's on pace to challenge for 40.

"For me, I treat every game the same, I try to prepare for every game the same, I don't look too far ahead and I don't look back," Horcoff said.

"I think it's confidence, more than anything. Any time you have confidence, the game slows down for you, Every time you get a shot on net you feel like you're going to score. It makes a big difference."


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