Penner moves to middle

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

DALLAS -- Dustin Penner had all of 30 seconds to think about it.

After skating at left wing with Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner all week, heck, after playing left wing his entire pro career, he found out he was moving to centre.

"Literally, there were 30 seconds left on the clock (before the opening faceoff)," said Penner, who played the whole Nashville game between Ethan Moreau and Fernando Pisani, and likely will again tomorrow against Dallas.

"We practised with me, Hemmer and Sammy in the morning and just before the game he said Pens in the middle between Pisani and Moreau.

"I was excited. I grew up playing centre till junior college. Obviously it's a lot different at the NHL level, but I've been practising my draws and I've been getting better at those.

"When you're playing the wing in your own zone you get almost stagnant, watching their point man, you kind of feel helpless.

"When you're down low (at centre) there's a lot more responsibility.

"If I can learn to be as strong as a guy like Shawn Horcoff down low, with my size and my body, hopefully we won't be spending a lot of time in our end."

Penner went 9-7 in the faceoff circle and was the only Oiler with a winning percentage against the Preds. He didn't get a point though, and has one assist and is minus six in the last five games.

Clearly it wasn't working as a first line winger, not since Shawn Horcoff got hurt, anyway, so they're hoping this can jumpstart the 245-pounder.

"When you're not on top of your game, which clearly he's not because we've seen him play much better ... you have to try and look at how you can help the player get himself out of it," said head coach Craig MacTavish.

"I think this is one way that can help him.

"I've been thinking about it for a while, get him skating, put a few more miles on the odometer."

And since Edmonton didn't have anyone who could match strength with Jason Arnott up the middle, he made the conversion in Nashville.

"The other thing is getting him to play with like-minded players, guys who can work to his strengths, guys like Ethan and Fernie, who can cycle the puck pretty well.

"Moreau is going to sit beside him on the bench and he's going to say, 'let's get this deep. Let's get involved physically,' and that constant banter back and forth will be beneficial for him."

They need Penner to be a lot more productive than he has been. A first line that used to carry the Oilers has gone bone dry since Horcoff had his season cut short by shoulder surgery.

Gagner is chipping in some power play points, and had two more Tuesday on the reunited Kid Line with Robert Nilsson and Andrew Cogliano, but Hemsky and Penner look lost without Horcoff.

"Without him, those two have had a hard time connecting," said MacTavish.


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