SUN Hockey Pool

Off the witness stand

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:36 AM ET

And what he thinks about his ex-GM telling the world how stupid it was for Edmonton to make him that offer sheet. And if it's going to be really difficult to justify that ridiculous pay raise, given that he's, you know, out of shape and all.

If Dustin Penner has a noticeable spring in his step this season, it's not just because he's about eight pounds lighter.

It's because he's no longer shrouded by the black cloud of controversy that followed him to Edmonton last season when the ink was still wet on that jaw-dropping, collusion-busting five-year, $21.25 million offer sheet.

"It's been a welcome change," said Penner, whose dressing room stall feels less like a witness stand this year.

"I'm more relaxed, more comfortable and I'm more confident. I had a long summer to work out, longer than I've had in a long time.

"That helped not only with my training, but with my psyche. I hadn't had much down time to just recharge and get things taken care of."

Penner finally has the kind of stability in his life and career that he's been searching for for years. Playing two full seasons with the same team? This is a luxury he hasn't enjoyed in what seems like forever.

"This is going to be the first time that I've played consecutive years with a team in as long as I can remember," he said. "I went to Bottineau (University), played half a year and broke my femur, went to Maine and red-shirted for a year, then played one year and left, went to Cincinnati for a year and left, went to Portland and was up and down between there and Anaheim for a year, went to Anaheim for a year and then came to Edmonton. It was seven or eight different cities in as many years. It was really mentally taxing.

"So this is something I've never experienced before, being able to go to a city and have a feeling of home - have a house that's waiting here for me. There was none of that before."

The nomadic lifestyle can wear on a player. Living out of a rented apartment, or a hotel, or a suitcase, for the better part of a decade can leave a guy feeling a little lost.

"The beginning of the year and the end of the year were always the most stressful times because you're always packing up everything you have," he said.

"You're living out of hotels. Your stuff is spread all over. It definitely plays a role in how you feel. I can roll with instability, but I'd rather expend my energy elsewhere than spending so much of it trying to keep my life organized."

Now he can.

"I've been waiting for this moment since I started in Bottineau," he said. "It's kind of like you're your own person."

One year and 23 goals after he arrived, he finally feels comfortable. It's been a trying 12 months - if Penner had thin skin they would have found him whimpering in the fetal position in a far corner of the dressing room by the 20th game of the season - but he showed impressive poise to get to this point.

He still has to carve out a niche for himself with the Oilers, still has to grow into that contract (although judging from some of the recent deals being signed around the NHL, he doesn't have far to go), but if mental health counts for anything, he's twice the player he was last year.

"I guess you just had to kind of live in the moment," he said. "If I let everything keep piling on and piling on, it would have got to me. If you're worrying about what people asked you or what they're going to ask you, you'll drive yourself nuts. And I had good support from my teammates and the organization and from friends and family.

"It definitely made me stronger and really tested my will and determination. I'm glad the year is over and

I think I'm better for it."


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