SUN Hockey Pool

More than a pair of fists

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- Zack Stortini is a fighter who can play.

That's one of the reasons the six-foot-three, 228-pound forward has endeared himself to the Edmonton Oilers coaching staff.

That, and his desire to continue getting better.

"Like I said before about tough guys, if you can't play a little, then you're going to have to fight a lot," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.

"But Zack can play a lot. I don't expect him to just be the type of guy that is going to square off against the other team's toughest guy every night.

"He can play and if you want to fight Zack, he'll fight you, but you're going to have to take a penalty to get it and he's just going to play hard-nosed hockey in between."

The Oilers fifth pick, (94th overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Stortini had the unenviable task of trying to fill the enforcer's role left vacant by the departure of Georges Laraque two seasons ago.

With Stortini, the Oilers attempted to plug the void with someone who wasn't a liability on the ice, could play a regular shift and be part of an effective line.

Towards the end of the season, Stortini fit the bill perfectly, combining with Kyle Brodziak and the now departed Curtis Glencross to provide an effective fourth line.

Stortini finished with three goals and nine assists in 66 games last season.

"I'm just looking for the same basic game from him this year," MacTavish said. "They really played well at the end of the year, it gave us a great lift. It's going to be a challenge to find a good complement for those guys again this year."

Stortini started last season in Springfield with the Oilers AHL affiliate before getting called up to the big club four games in.

With an injury to Ethan Moreau, the native of Elliot Lake, Ont., was asked to provide toughness for a team that was high on youth and skill, but lacking in grit.

Stortini went out to fill that role by essentially dropping the gloves with any willing combatant. He learned a few lessons along the way, most notably not to let a veteran (Owen Nolan) jump you at the end of a shift.

"I try to bring more than just one dimension to my game," Stortini said. "I think it's very important in today's game to be more than one-dimensional. You have to be able to contribute offensively and be able to make plays with my teammates. You also have to be reliable offensively and be accountable in every zone of the ice, be able to read the plays on the ice and being physical.

"There are certain situations in a game where different roles are needed."

Last night Stortini was in the lineup as the Oilers played the second game of a home-and-home series with the Vancouver Canucks.

He was on the right wing on the Oilers fourth line, flanked by rookies Tyler Spurgeon and Tim Sestito.

This season Stortini's spot on the fourth line is practically guaranteed. Barring injury he'll be starting there when the Oilers open the regular season Oct. 12 against the Colorado Avalanche.


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