SUN Hockey Pool

Healthy Nilsson getting comfy

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:02 PM ET

If he wasn’t so talented, it probably wouldn’t be as frustrating.

But the fact Robert Nilsson is capable of turning defencemen inside out and scoring the type of highlight reel goal he did against the Detroit Red Wings begs the question as to why he hasn’t been more effective this season?

Heading into Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings, the Edmonton Oilers winger has two goals and seven assists on the year.

“Well, I’ve only played 17 games this season,” Nilsson said. “But ever since I’ve come back from my injury, I’ve been feeling really comfortable out there. I’m more relaxed now and I’m just playing my game. That’s what I have to do to play better.”

Nilsson was the only player to register at least a point in all five of the Oilers wins on their recent road trip.

He scored the eventual winner against the Red Wings, undressing both defenceman Jonathan Ericsson and goaltender Jimmy Howard on the play, then went on to set up Shawn Horcoff’s winner against the St. Louis Blues at the end of the trip.

Prior to that, he’d been out of the lineup for 10 games with post-concussion symptoms.

“He was a pretty sick young man for a while, it seemed to hit him hard, he was like that Peanuts character that had the dirt all over him — Pigpen,” said Oilers head coach Pat Quinn. “But he’s bounced back well, he’s physically fit, his attitude is a lot better and he’s competing a lot harder than he did earlier in the season and that’s a big part of what he has to do. He’s a skillful player, but in order to be effective he has to compete hard and that’s what he’s been able to do in the last little while.”

With Ales Hemsky out for the season with a shoulder injury, Nilsson is now arguably the most gifted offensive player on the squad.

However, he struggled in his own zone at the beginning of the season and his work ethic was questioned. Had it not been for injuries to Fernando Pisani and Marc Pouliot, it was very likely Nilsson would have found himself in the minors to start the season.

Even with those two out, Nilsson still had difficulties cracking the lineup.

“I started off the year in the press box and I was really confused out there,” Nilsson said. “I’ve pretty much gone the opposite way right now. I hope that this is an indication of how the season will go.

“I haven’t felt this comfortable out there in the last four years. It feels good. I just feel relaxed out there.

"What I have to do is be relaxed out there and be comfortable. I feel like my positioning is a lot better right now and when I do get the chances I have a lot more energy, so that helps a lot too.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca


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