ANAHEIM — Ryan Potulny has come a long way this season.
The Edmonton Oilers forward, who started the year in the minors, is now centring the top line in the big leagues.
He’ll be taking Sam Gagner’s spot between Dustin Penner and Robert Nilsson Wednesday when the Oilers pay a visit to the Anaheim Ducks.
“We’re comfortable with Ryan anywhere,” said Oilers associate coach Tom Renney. “He’s an intelligent player that wants to make the most of every minute he spends in the National Hockey League. With that, you have a captive audience and a guy that works hard to execute.”
Heading into Wednesday’s game, Potulny has 12 goals and eight assists on the season. Only Penner and Gagner have scored more often this year.
“Coming into the season, I didn’t want to start the year in the minors, I wanted to start the year in the NHL,” Potulny said. “It didn’t work out that way, but you can’t be surprised when you do have some success. You have to have high expectations and as a player all you can do is try to get better every day.”
Acquired in a trade from the Philadelphia Flyers two seasons ago, Potulny is no stranger to scoring. He led the Oilers organization with 38 goals in Springfield last season and had 38 goals in 41 games in his final year at the University of Minnesota.
“What he’s done, is he’s always tried to be responsible,” Renney said. “And for a team that’s trying to find traction as we’ve always been, those that can play a two-way game and think their way through it are awfully appealing and he’s been that way for us since Day 1.”
Not the fleetest of foot, Potulny’s strength lay in his understanding of the game and his ability to be in the right spots at the right time.
“There have been other players that have done other things with their hockey sense that weren’t gifted skaters too,” Renney said. “That’s not the first time we’ve seen that. But if you’re not fleet of foot, you have to be able to think through the game quickly and he does that.”
Playing on the top line with Penner and Nilsson, it’s hoped that Potulny can help provide some offence to a team struggling to score goals.
“I’ve played with them a little bit before,” Potulny said.
“I thought the other night was one of my better nights playing with them. I settled in and got used to what they were going to do. Penner is a good guy to play with, you just have to read off him.
"He draws guys to him, just because he holds on to the puck so well, so I just have to learn where to get open for him.