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ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

A few months ago Robert Nilsson was barely good enough to play in the NHL.

Heck, a few months ago, he wasn't in the NHL.

With too little production to show for too little determination, Nilsson found himself demoted to AHL Springfield just five games into what he hoped would be his breakout season in the NHL.

Now, a few months and a few hard lessons later, he actually is breaking out. He's picked up points in six of his last seven games, proving his eight-game point scoring streak earlier this season was no fluke.

"He's always had great skill, but with the exception of the last month or two he's never, at this level, used his speed as a weapon," said head coach Craig MacTavish, who's always been on Nilsson to drive instead of coast. "He's always relied on his hands and it's not good enough at this level -you have to attack with speed and you have to be a threat to beat guys wide and back the defenders off.

PACE OF GAME PICKED UP

"The pace of his game has picked up quite noticeably. You can see it when you watch him practise, that he's getting to full speed when he has the puck. It was a lengthy process to convince him to do that."

One that included an October trip to Springfield and a few nights watching his teammates from the press box.

"They wanted something from me that I really wasn't giving them," admitted Nilsson. "Now it feel like I am."

For a lot of young players who succeeded their whole careers by simply being better than everyone else, adding the work ethic, strength, fitness and structure needed to excel in the NHL doesn't come easily. Some never find the recipe.

"With all young guys, you have to be faced with a certain amount of failure," said MacTavish. "You have to take a serious look at why a guy who's maybe as skilled a player as you have in your dressing room, with the exception of a couple, why a guy like that has not made an impact on your team.

"You have to have that discussion with yourself and wonder why somebody else is playing with a heck of a lot less skill than you have. You get the answer and you try and apply it. (His recent success) is a product of greater fitness, greater strength and greater work ethic."

Nilsson did have the discussion, and is applying the answer.

"I think maybe I needed to figure a couple of things out,"he said. "It feels like the things I needed to improve, I've improved."

He still seems to need a jumpstart every now and again, though. After the eight-game point streak in early December he had two assists and was minus four in his next nine, leading to a pair of games in the press box.

He came back with six points in six games, posted goose eggs for four straight and ended up in the press box again. Now he's on another roll. It comes and goes, but when it's here, it's something.

GIVES COACHES CREDIT

He gives the coaching staff a lot of credit for coaxing the best out of him.

"Mac T, the trainers, the coaches, they've all helped me a lot," said the 23-year-old son of former Oiler Kent Nilsson. "I think I've learned a lot this year, a lot more than I learned in a couple other years."

A full season in the NHL, with dynamic linemates like Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano don't hurt, either.

"The difference between now and October is 60 games," he said. "I've doubled the games I've played in the show, and confidence has a lot to do with everything.

"You have to be comfortable out there and they have to be comfortable putting you out there."


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