It's Hemmer's time

TERRY JONES

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

Are we, at this very moment, finally, witnessing Ales Hemsky take that last large leap to his oft-projected and predicted future as a great in the game?

Is it finally happening for the 25-year-old Czech who has been a slow but steady study, progressing in small steps, seldom in spurts?

Is he right now, in early December of 2008, at long last breaking through the barrier to becoming a star?

"That's why you play hockey. You want to be a star. I want to be the player who is now a star," said Hemsky in almost a whisper as the dressing room cleared of media after practice yesterday. "I want to be taking the step."

Is he taking it now?

"I hope so. It feels good when the confidence comes."

As the Edmonton Oilers returned home in the process of rebooting their season with a three-game winning streak with 10 more home games remaining to be played than away games, consider where Hemsky sits leading the way for his hockey club.

CLOSE TO THE PACK

He's in 16th place in the NHL scoring race, only four points back of a pack of players tied for fifth.

He's ahead of Dany Heatley, Alexander Semin, Shane Doan, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Teemu Selanne, Henrik Zetterberg, Rick Nash, Daniel Alfredsson, Niklas Backstrom, Vincent Lecavalier, Saku Koivi, Jason Spezza, Markus Naslund, Martin St. Louis, Anze Kopitar, Brad Richards and Mike Modano.

There's seldom been a game this season where he hasn't had a holy cow wow moment. In fact there are currently 212 Ales Hemsky video clips posted on YouTube.

"I've never gone to YouTube and typed in my name or anything like that," said this most modest, quiet, shy, introverted dressing room recluse.

"Watching him on the other side of the fence, you see the flashes of wow and 'look at that' skill," said former Vancouver Canucks assistant GM Steve Tambellini, who now watches him as Oilers' GM under Kevin Lowe.

"When you see him every day, you see how much wow he has. When he's moving his feet, he's an 'A' player in the NHL."

But Tambellini is now seeing Hemsky as he appears to be taking that step.

"His game is at a different level," said coach Craig MacTavish yesterday.

"He's always had that level but with less consistency. But he's right at the top of his game and he's kept that level through 26 games.

"And he's added elements to his game. He's shooting the puck a lot more. He's getting it in deep. He's checking better. His game has really filled out in the last little while. But what's separating him now is his consistency night in and night out."

He's been close to being a point-per-game player but never quite managing to become one.

"I want to be a point-per-game player and build from there," is how Hemsky put it yesterday.

Twenty-six games in and he's holding steady as a point-per-game player. It's not his nine goals and 19 assists for 28 points which is the story here but the set of stats within those stats - what he's done in those 18 road games which speak loudest. He's scored seven with 14 assists for 21 points.

ON THE ROAD

That's three more points than the 18 games Edmonton has played on the road.

League leading scorers Evgeny Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin have all played 14 away games. Malkin has 11 points, Crosby 12 and Ovechkin 15 in those games.

"I didn't know that," said Hemsky. "I don't look at stats that much."

With a steady stream of home games the rest of the way, Hemsky - who has picked up points in each of his last eight games - has the table set to make a major move.

Finally taking shots and scoring goals like the one in San Jose Saturday night on a shot he'd never have taken two years ago, Hemsky has scored goals in three of his last four games. Hitting the 20-goal plateau for the first time last year, he's now on a pace to hit 30 this season.

"We don't have a real good scorer on the team," said Hemsky of the need for him to become a goal scorer in addition to playmaker.

"If you're going to get a point per game, you need to score goals, too," he said. "You can't just do it passing."

A lot of fans who have been screaming "shoot" for years should be happy to hear he's finally seen the light. Now maybe he'll move on and light up the league.


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