Gilbert finding his way

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

A quick glance at his numbers would suggest Tom Gilbert is having an off season.

The Oilers defenceman had a career-high 45 points last year. But through 37 games this season, Gilbert has eight.

Yet with Sheldon Souray, Lubomir Visnovsky and even Denis Grebeshkov taking up valuable minutes on the power play, Gilbert's numbers were expected to take a dip. And while he did struggle with his game early in the season, the native of Bloomington, Minn., feels he's starting to regain his form.

"I'm seeing the ice better, I'm moving the puck better, I'm playing better defensively," Gilbert said. "Now it's just a matter of trying to do a little bit more offensively.

"Things are going easier on the ice. Once you get that confidence that you can make plays and break the puck out well, the game -- it's never easy -- but you're seeing it better. You're moving the puck better and faster. That's the way it's been going lately."

Acquired in a trade for goaltender Tommy Salo in 2004, Gilbert quickly developed into one of the Oilers future cornerstones.

The graduate of the University of Wisconsin broke a team record for most goals by a rookie defenceman with 13 in his first season.

He then posted an impressive point total last season, second only to Souray on the Oilers blue-line. This year, however, the numbers have dropped off. Heading into tonight's game against the Vancouver Canucks, Gilbert has just two goals and six assists on the year.

"I don't worry about it too much, it's just one of things you look at on paper and see that I was getting points last year and you think that I must have been playing well," Gilbert said. "But it's when I'm not getting any opportunities on the ice during a game, when I'm not close to the net or getting shots there and not making plays is when I should be looking at my game.

"I'd like to be getting a little more offensively. But things haven't opened up too much for me lately and as an offensive guy it gets frustrating. But you just have to be patient, you can't really press too hard."

During his rookie season with Souray out of the lineup due to a shoulder injury and Visnovsky still playing in Los Angeles, Gilbert was expected to provide the bulk of the offence from the blue-line.

Last year, when Visnovsky went down with a shoulder problem of his own Gilbert was once again asked to step up offensively.

With both Visnovsky and Souray in the lineup this year providing offence from the back end, Gilbert found himself lost, which manifested itself into nervous energy.

"For some reason he was nervous as a ninny cat to start the year," said Oilers coach Pat Quinn. "He's been a lot better handling the puck and doing things that he's gifted at. Those are the assets that he has and you'd like to see him use those assets, then build the other parts of his game.

"Become a better and better defender, which is the area you want him to become better at. But he's been good moving the puck lately and he's making progress. I like how he's coming along."

DEREK.VANDIEST@SUNMEDIA.CA

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