Bright side of the road

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

How dark was it?

So dark that even now, as he's finally escaping the shadows that consumed him for three months, Jarret Stoll doesn't like to talk about it.

Can you blame him?

October, November and most of December will go down as the worst stretch of his career -- a barren wasteland in which the frustrated centre struggled to keep his point total above his minus total.

As the weeks wore on and he fell from the second line to the third and finally the fourth, some fans wondered if he'd lost it for good, if last season's extended bout of post-concussion syndrome spooked the edge out of him.

He says it didn't, that last year's head injury and this year's slump are unrelated, but admits he was a little worried there, maybe even a lot worried.

"It was definitely frustrating going through what I did at the start of the year," said the 25-year-old, who had big plans for this season.

"It's definitely not what I had in mind. I had a lot of expectations on myself, and high ones.

"(But) some games everything you did is wrong, you're a half second late or a half second ahead. It just didn't seem to work. It just wasn't happening.

"It was hard because I never really went through it to that extent before, being a healthy scratch and all those things."

Worst three months as a pro.

"You just try and stay positive, you can't give up," he said. "As bad as things were, you have to keep going and have the feeling that it will turn around some day."

It looks like it's starting to. He's been better the last couple of weeks, and with five points in his last six games (it took 16 games to get his first five points of the season), the production is finally catching up with his play.

"It's just a matter of being more comfortable with the puck, being in spots and positions where you can get some scoring chances," he said. "Getting some shots, being in good rebound positions. Wanting the puck, feeling comfortable and confident with it."

Confidence was the least of Stoll's worries last year, when he was a cornerstone so valuable the Oilers wouldn't even think of moving him. But Sammy Pahlsson's hit from behind on Jan. 18 halted that momentum in its tracks.

Only now, after 30 games on the injured list and 34 more in this year's personal quagmire, is he getting back to his old self.

"As a coach you're sometimes a pessimist," said head coach Craig MacTavish. "But I thought along the way that eventually he would get there. It takes time, in certain instances, to regain your form after the type of injury he had last year.

"It can be largely mental and psychological to push yourself to a level that you played at before, coming off an injury like that.

"It's nice that he's back at that level."

The Oilers are as relieved by the resurrection as Stoll is, not only because he makes them a much better team, but because he's a popular guy in the dressing room who works as hard as anyone and they didn't like watching him suffer.

"Sometimes you forget the commitment it takes to play at the level we expect Jarret to," said MacTavish.

"But he's found it now and I think it's safe to say it'll stay there."

Stoll still won't hang his slow start on the concussion, but he doesn't know what got him into the ditch, he knows what got him out.

"You have to fight through it and battle through it. You put in the work and hopefully you can get the results out of it. That's what my dad always said, anyway.

"You put in the time and the work and you'll be rewarded. It was tough, but hopefully we're on the road to recovery."


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