SUN Hockey Pool

Hemsky is ready

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMIA gency

, Last Updated: 1:20 AM ET

EDMONTON - Ales Hemsky figures he may be the shooter by default playing on a line with the two Ryans Tuesday against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tends to be a set-up man, while Ryan Smyth usually doesn’t shoot beyond a three-foot radius of the net.

So Hemsky, who is expected to play his first exhibition game Tuesday, may look to the net more than usual.

“Yeah, I think I’m the shooter on the line right now,” Hemsky smiled. “Smytty doesn’t shoot the puck too much, so I’ll have to be the guy shooting. We’ll see tomorrow.”

Hemsky has not played a game since March and came into training camp unable to take part in any contact due to off-season shoulder surgery.

The Oilers winger, who is going into the last year of his contract, wanted to get into at least a pair of exhibition games before the start of the regular season. He was cleared to play late last week.

“I feel really good, the shoulder is feeling great,” said Hemsky. “I haven’t had any troubles in practice, so it’s been pretty good.”

Following Tuesday’s encounter, the Oilers will have two more exhibition games before commencing their regular season on Oct. 9 when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins.

They’ll finish off by travelling to face the Minnesota Wild on Friday and then the Vancouver Canucks Saturday.

For Hemsky, getting into a least two of the next three encounters has more to do with getting his timing back than conditioning.

“I’ve been skating a lot and practice sometimes is a lot harder than the games,” Hemsky said. “We’ve been practicing for two hours sometimes and it’s been a hard week for me. I’ve done every bag skate you can get, so I think I should be ready for the game.”

Hemsky is looking forward to playing with Nugent-Hopkins, who has so far made a good account of himself, collecting an assist in each of his three exhibition games.

Hemsky expects playing along side Nugent-Hopkins to be different than playing with his regular centre, Shawn Horcoff, who is more of a triggerman.

“I’ve played with Horc for a long time, so we know what to expect from each other,” Hemsky said. “He knows where I go and I know where he’s going to be.

“With Nuge, you don’t have to play with him that long to know where he’s going to be. He’s so smart and he’s a great hockey player. He has a great sense of the game and he knows where he has to go. He’s a very good centre.”

Oilers head coach Tom Renney is hoping to get plenty out of production out of the line against the Coyotes. And if Hemsky has to be the finisher, so be it.

“I’ve yelled at him a fair amount to shoot the puck,” said Renney.

“Obviously we encourage him to shoot. He seems like he’s more willing to now, he’s made an adjustment with his stick and he feels comfortable with that. Hopefully he’ll be shooting. It’s not necessarily a hard shot, but he has accuracy and you know the goalie is going to have to make a good save when he takes it.”

Prior to getting hurt, Hemsky had 14 goals and 28 assists last season.

Despite just playing 47 games, he still finished just a point back of Jordan Eberle for the team scoring lead.

It was only the second time since 2006 that Hemsky didn’t finish as the team’s scoring leader or tied for the scoring lead.

“He’s got great vision and all kinds of courage,” said Renney. “We just want to see him keep moving, moving around, putting himself in position to receive passes for one-timers on the power play and off the rush naturally.

“But he’s not alone, we need to shoot more as a team. Even in a drill this morning, it was a passing derby in the three-on-one and you hope that’s not going to happen in the game.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

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