Penner picks up pace

KEN WIEBE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:08 AM ET

Dustin Penner is getting a fresh start after all -- and he doesn't even have to go to the nation's capital for it.

Although the Winkler product was thought to be part of the Dany Heatley blockbuster that fell through, a coaching change has left Penner feeling a little more encouraged about how things might go in Oil Country this season.

His feud with Craig MacTavish was well-publicized, with the former Edmonton Oilers head coach taking Penner to task in the media several times last season for what he believed was inconsistent and sometimes uninspired play.

With Pat Quinn taking over, Penner could be poised to produce his best season since joining the Oilers.

"Everybody has enjoyed the new coaching staff and new outlook for the team," said Penner. "(Quinn) is calm and he exudes confidence for his players. I've definitely noticed the difference."

Negative press sent his way during the past two seasons has taken its toll on Penner and that was evident as he met with the media prior to yesterday's NHL pre-season game in which the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Oilers 4-3 in overtime at the MTS Centre.

Penner's answers were short and left plenty to the imagination.

However, the 26-year-old (he'll turn 27 on Sept. 28) was excited to be playing his first game in Winnipeg since his days as a member of the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks in 2004-05, his first as a pro.

"It definitely is exciting, a lot of friends and family are coming out," said Penner.

After posting 29 goals and 45 points in his first full season with the Anaheim Ducks, Penner signed a lucrative offer sheet with the Oilers in the summer of 2007.

Penner had 23 goals and 47 points in 82 games in 2007-08, but his production slipped to 17 goals and 37 points last season.

When asked about being linked to the potential trade for Heatley, Penner gave a curious response.

"I don't know, nothing really. I was kind of indifferent," said Penner. "It didn't really happen."

For his part, Quinn has been impressed by what he's seen from Penner.

"We've had very little 1-on-1 conversation, but Dustin came to camp in what is considered better condition than in the past," said Quinn. "He looks fit and I don't know what's happened in the past, but I like what I see right now. He's skating well, he's going to the net. We know he has good hands. We think he has the possibility of having a strong year."

ken.wiebe@sunmedia.ca


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