SUN Hockey Pool

Don't pick on Peckham

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

Had it been against any other 43-year-old veteran, Theo Peckham may have felt bad about it, and probably would have been vilified for it.

But it was Claude Lemieux.

So there was little sympathy when the Edmonton Oilers defenceman used Lemieux's head as a punching bag last week against the San Jose Sharks.

"I was off in the corner going to pick up the puck and there was a crowd gathering," Peckham said. "You just want to get in there and I jumped in there and grabbed the first guy I found and it ended up being him.

"Everybody knows what happened after that. That happens I guess."

Considering the tactics he's used, the cheap shots he's delivered and the verbal venom he's spewed, it's probably not a stretch to believe Lemieux had it coming as he and Peckham were separated from the pack in the scrum.

Even after the fight was over, Lemieux took a couple of pokes at Peckham through the linesmen, which earned him a 10-minute misconduct.

"It was just one of those things, I don't think he knew Claude was a grandpa," smiled Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish. "I do have a new-found respect for Claude that I didn't have before."

In truth, the fight may have revealed more about Peckham than Lemieux. For a player who just on Saturday made his home debut with the Oilers, Peckham is already carving out a solid reputation for himself.

"We've really liked his progress, we liked his training camp and he's got a lot of elements to his game that we like," said MacTavish. "He's tough. Right now he's a good depth guy for us. He's proving that value by stepping in and playing some pretty good minutes for us and adding some toughness."

Selected by the Oilers in the third round - 75 overall - in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Peckham has quickly worked his way up the depth chart.

Prior to his call-up, the native of Richmond Hill, Ont., was the top-scoring defenceman with the Oilers AHL affiliate in Springfield, with 19 goals in 44 games.

He was the obvious choice to fill in when Lubomir Visnovsky and Denis Grebeshkov went down with injuries.

"He's played well for us," said Oilers defenceman Sheldon Souray.

"He's a different type of defenceman than the two guys who went down. But he's playing simple, he's being effective and he's playing tough. He's definitely not a liability out there."

In seven games with the Oilers this season, Peckham is averaging 10:15 of ice time per night. He has yet to collect a point, but does have three fights. Saturday was the first time he's played a regular-season game with the Oilers at Rexall Place.

"It's definitely different, the fans are actually on your side," Peckham said. "Prior to that I played six games on the road. It's definitely tough going into other teams' buildings. If you make a mistake or take a big hit along the boards, the fans are cheering against you. It's definitely good to come back and have some support."

Barring a trade for a defenceman, Peckham will draw into the lineup until Denis Grebeshkov is able to return from his high-ankle sprain.

The prognosis on Grebeshkov is good and he's recovering faster than originally anticipated.

Regardless, Peckham probably will stay with the Oilers as the team's seventh defenceman when Grebeshkov does return.

"I don't think you can ever get comfortable with the situation," Peckham said. "Even if you've played six or seven years in this league, you should never be comfortable with a spot here. That's when your game starts dropping off, when you start feeling complacent about being here.

"At the same time, it's good to know that you're going to be playing night in and night out for now. It does take a little bit of the edge off, it just makes you that much more excited to play well to show people that it's not just a fortunate call-up to be here, that you deserve to be here."


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