Can Jacques stay nimble?

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

After an endless and exhaustive search, the Edmonton Oilers have found their man.

The missing link, to play with Ales Hemsky, the magic man to complete the only true top talent on the hockey team is ....

Not Hossa.

Not Heatley.

Not Vanek.

Not Nylander.

Not Penner.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Edmonton Oilers are proud to present ... J.F. Jacques!

OK. From the outside looking in, this is laughable.

J.F. Jacques has played 60 NHL games spread over the last five years. He's scored one goal. No assists.

One point! In his entire NHL career!

But if you were watching the Oilers this preseason, particularly last night's final game against the Vancouver Canucks and three nights earlier against the Calgary Flames, the big guy wearing No. 22 was auditioning on the left side of Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff.

Coach Pat Quinn said after the morning skate that the job was J.F.'s to lose.

And the guy went out in last night's overtime win and played so well he was named the first star of the game.

At least for the short term here, it's a pretty good story.

"I still have to pinch myself when I come to the rink," he said of looking at the board in the dressing room where that night's line combinations are listed.

"I'm used to coming in and seeing myself on the fourth line."

Quinn, after making several post-game cuts last night, made it official in the interview room.

"We're going to have Jacques in the lineup," he said.

Asked if he had a "thought in his head" that he might be starting the regular season with Jacques as his first-line right winger when he came to camp, Quinn thought I'd asked if he had "a knot" in his head.

After a good laugh, he said: "No. Not at all. But when we sat down to divide the team up into two teams for the first few preseason games, we thought 'Why not?'

"He fit in pretty well. He certainly fit in pretty well tonight."

With the cuts he's made, Quinn has decided he needs a big guy on every line to go with all the jockeys he has on this team.

"The goal was to get some size and grit into the lineup," he said. "We decided to get bigger guys and crustier guys."

Jacques was pleasantly surprised.

"I wasn't expecting this," he said of the night and the pre-season overall in which he played five games and didn't look at all out of place.

He even made a first-line play last night with a saucer pass to Horcoff.

"I don't know what happened there. I kinda blacked out, I guess," he laughed.

Someone asked if he thought he was the surprise of this year's training camp.

No, he said, placing Dustin Penner and Ryan Stone ahead of him in that category.

"I came to camp with only one goal and that was to make the team. I just wanted to keep playing physical.

"I was pretty happy with the preseason. I didn't expect to be playing with those two guys. I didn't expect to play that much or with those two guys."

This was Jacques' seventh Oilers training camp, his fifth out of junior and his linemates have mostly been plumbers to this point.

"I don't want to say anything bad about MacT," he said of former coach Craig MacTavish.

"But I was not confident in those years. It was good to come to camp with new coaches who maybe haven't even heard of me," he said.

And he's not assuming anything here.

"I'm still going to come in here every day and continue to work hard over and over and over again," he said of returning after today's day off.

"Hockey can be a lot about confidence," added Jacques, who scored a goal and an assist last night to end up with three goals and a helper and show the new coach that he's ready to use his big body.

He's gone to the tough areas.

He's finished his checks.

He's had a couple scraps. And the player who had back surgery and virtually lost two years, is finally looking like the Oilers hoped he would when they picked him second in the 2003 entry draft.

"There was a point where I might not be able to play again," he said of the surgery last year for a herniated disc.

"For about a month there I couldn't move."

Now he's about to make the move of his career.

"Having a chance to play with those two guys is great. I want to make the most of it."

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA


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