SUN Hockey Pool

Hemsky needs a linemate

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

A couple of years ago Wayne Gretzky commented that the player who most reminded him of himself was wearing an Edmonton Oilers uniform.

He identified Ales Hemsky.

"I don't think he realizes how good he is and that he has it in him to be a dominant player," said Gretzky.

Now Hemsky is starting to realize it and is becoming that player. And coach Craig MacTavish is going to start treating Hemsky like he's Gretzky.

MacTavish said Hemsky, like Gretzky before him, is now going to start taking extra shifts with other lines.

"He's playing so well right now, he can help other guys. That's what great players do. Great players make other players better," MacTavish said after practice yesterday at Millennium Place in Sherwood Park.

"When Gretzky was around, getting 200 points a year, nobody went through too many slumps."

Give a guy a few shifts with Gretzky and good things would start to happen for the floundering fellow.

"He'd get some assists, maybe an empty net goal ... Gretzky increased their confidence level."

MacTavish made it clear that No. 83 isn't No. 99.

Proof of that was in the next room, where Dustin Penner was taking off his skates. As well as Hemsky is playing, he hasn't been able to make Penner any better.

MacTavish has taken Penner off Hemsky's line for the third period of each of the last two games. He didn't even put him on the ice as an extra attacker when he pulled the goalie in the final minute Sunday.

When saddled with Penner, Hemsky's doing it with one hand tied behind his back. But he's still doing it.

"Hemsky was a threat every time he was out there. He's making offence every time he touches the puck," said MacTavish.

While the focus was more on Penner and the other passengers in Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators, it was hard not to notice Hemsky coming over the boards 24 times for 23:17 minutes of ice time in the game.

When asked about it after the game, MacTavish made the statement.

"He's at the point where he can handle the minutes. He couldn't handle the ice time and the minutes before. Any time I see he's not breathing hard, he's going out there."

Ice time of 23:17 isn't unusual for a top defenceman. But for a forward, especially one who doesn't kill penalties, it's a big number.

Alexander Ovechkin leads the league with an average of 23:13. Evgeny Malkin is second at 22:42 and Sidney Crosby sits third with 22:10.

Hemsky is 59th at 18:46.

MacTavish made another interesting statement about the Czech who has now scored six goals in his last five games and has produced 43 points in the 39 games he's played.

"When you have a guy like Hemsky playing the way he is right now, all you have to do is get him the puck somewhere between the hash marks in your own end and the red line and you are going to get a chance. He's an elite player playing at the top of his game and we have to find someone for him."

Yesterday he expanded on that.

"We haven't had an answer on that left side. Virtually everybody has had an opportunity. Dustin is the best fit we have there right now ... but it might be a stretch long term."

Kevin Lowe's greatest failure as general manager was the total failure to find somebody to play with Hemsky. And now that his best player appears to be taking that last large leap to becoming a legitimate superstar, it's being magnified.

Yesterday, new GM Steve Tambellini wouldn't acknowledge that -- or any references by MacTavish to the need for a player that can win a faceoff as a cry for help.

There's one month and one day to the trade deadline and I'm not sure who is in charge of making blockbuster trades right now, Lowe or Tambellini.

But there's one crying to be made.

Great things can happen if they get a proper playmate for Hemsky.


Videos

Photos