SUN Hockey Pool

Patience will pay off with Pitkanen

BOB STAUFFER

, Last Updated: 7:54 AM ET

If Edmonton Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish needs any inspiration as to how to cajole more game out of the enigmatic Joni Pitkanen, he need look no further than Columbus head coach Ken Hitchcock.

Hitchcock and Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson have helped turn the flighty Nikolai Zherdev into a player this season after the talented Russian came off the rails in 2006-07, registering just 32 points and going minus-19 in 71 games.

Hitch has gotten the most out of Zherdev this season, as the former fourth overall pick in the 2003 NHL draft has scored 24 goals and 55 points in 68 games.

Zherdev's struggles last season led to trade rumours that included one of the players that was sent to Philadelphia for Pitkanen, former Oiler Joffrey Lupul.

Lupul's turnaround campaign with the Flyers, although recently derailed by injury, is another reason why MacTavish needs to be patient and get more out of Pitkanen.

MacTavish and the Oil gave up on Lupul after just one season after the Fort Saskatchewan native struggled through an awful 16 goal, 28 point,minus-29 campaign. Lupul has bounced back with 39 points in 44 games and has become a fan favourite in Philly this season.

Pitkanen, meanwhile, hasn't exactly lit it up here in Edmonton, with 18 points and a minus-7 in 49 games.

The Finnish defender is clearly talented and has greater upside than Lupul, but is there anyone in Edmonton right now who thinks that Pitkanen has shown a tremendous passion to play as an Oiler yet?

Face it, sometimes you watch the guy out there and it looks like he doesn't give a crap, kind of like how some of the veterans in Columbus saw Zherdev last season.

Recently I asked MacTavish if he saw Pitkanen making some small strides as an Oiler.

MacTavish responded by briefly touching on Pitkanen, and then complimenting Denis Grebeshkov on his growth as an NHL defenceman this season.

Translation: the Oilers are happier right now with Grebeshkov, then they are with Pitkanen.

For the Oilers sake, they have to get Pitkanen to buy in in a hurry, and not give up on him. Otherwise, when you factor in that the Oil also traded captain Jason Smith, and also took back Geoff Sanderson's contract in the Pitkanen deal; it could end up being a very lop-sided trade in Philadelphia's favour.

STILL NEED MORE JAM

As the Nashville Predators proved for the eighth time in the last two seasons this past week, the Oilers are in still in dire need of some grit.

The Predators are an extremely fast and physical team, and the Oilers have difficulties dealing with the Preds forecheck as an 0-8 record over the last two seasons indicates.

Granted, Nashville had a skill advantage in 2006-07 when they finished with 110 points, but with the off-season losses of Paul Kariya, Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen and Thomas Vokoun you would have thought the Oilers would have closed the gap in 2007-08.

But that has not been the case because the Predators have run the Oilers show, as evidenced by the second period of Tuesday night's game, when Jordin Tootoo and Darcy Hordichuk took extra steps to land big hits without the fear of reprisal.

The Oil have young players and they need some protection.

To his credit, Zack Stortini has improved as the season has gone on but the Oil need a legitimate heavyweight who is comfortable playing 55-60 games a season as a 13th forward to help keep teams like the Predators honest.


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