SUN Hockey Pool

Hemsky repaired, ready

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

Ales Hemsky expects to be ready once the puck drops on the season.

Yesterday the winger was back on the ice with his teammates in preparation for Saturday's opener against the Calgary Flames. He had missed practice the day before with a sore groin.

"I think I tweaked it in our last game," Hemsky said. "I came to the rink (Tuesday) and I was pretty sore. I said I would try it and was still pretty sore. I didn't want to push it too hard, I knew I had another five days before our first game, so I took the day off.

"Today it was still pretty tight, but it feels pretty good, so I'll be good to go."

Expectations are once again high on Hemsky heading into the season.

Despite being the team's leading scorer for the past two years, the native of Pardubice, Czech Republic, has not reached the lofty heights projected after a breakout year in 2005-2006.

Hemsky was quiet through most of the preseason, although he did save his best for the last exhibition game of the year. He was at his dangling finest, picking up a pair of assists in the Oilers' 5-4 overtime win over the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday.

The top line of Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff and J-F Jacques combined for six points in the contest.

"The last game our line clicked pretty well," Hemsky said. "It was a better game from me and Horc and our line. J-F played great, he battled hard, hit a lot of guys and gave us space down low. It went pretty well."

Last season, Hemsky led the Oilers in scoring with 66 points in 72 games.

The year the Oilers went to the Stanley Cup final, Hemsky, 26, finished with a career-high 77 points playing alongside Ryan Smyth.

The Oilers have been trying to find someone to play as effectively with Hemsky since Smyth's trade out of town.

Jacques, who has a strong training camp, will start on the left wing on the top line.

"All those little things that Hemmer can do with the puck are unreal," Jacques said. "When you look at the last game, when I passed it to Horc on the power-play goal, you just look at the play he made along the wall. He does a lot of little things that you don't really notice as a player sometimes, but there are some really nice things he can do with the puck."

Like the majority of the players on the squad, Hemsky is still adjusting to the new systems put in place by head coach Pat Quinn and his staff, which could account for his slow start in the preseason. He's still expected to lead the team in scoring this year.

"It's a little different," Hemsky said.

"We're doing a lot of learning on the ice. We have to learn where to stand -- it's more of a positioning game than we had in the past. It is a lot of learning, but that's why we have training camp, so we can get all that down and be ready for Saturday."

As the team's most talented offensive player, Hemsky earns his money in his opponent's end of the ice. But defensive responsibility is a point the new coaching staff is trying to drive home to everyone.

"It's something you have to learn and adjust to," Hemsky said. "They want us to play good defence and from good defence we're going to get good offence.

"We'll see how it is and how it works out during the year. We have to play as a team, we all have to play well and we all have to be on the same page, so we'll see how it goes."

DEREK.VANDIEST@SUNMEDIA.CA


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