Oilers practice line juggling

Anton Lander found himself centering the third line at Oilers practice Wednesday. (QMI Agency)

Anton Lander found himself centering the third line at Oilers practice Wednesday. (QMI Agency)

Robert Tychkowski, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:22 PM ET

Change is good, especially when the record is bad.

So head coach Tom Renney had Anton Lander centering the third line with Ryan Jones and Sam Gagner on Wednesday while slumping centre Eric Belanger skated on the fourth with Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk.

While Renney said he isn’t married to the new alignments, it’s something to think about.

Lander does have some upside, after all, so why not give it a chance to surface?

“I think he’s shown us the wherewithal to navigate the ice surface well, both sides of the puck,” said Renney. “I think there’s some offence there. He’s shown an ability and a knack with the puck.

“It’s very early in his career and what this morphs into over time I’m not sure. But it’s safe to say that at the end of the day, he’s not a fourth-line centre in the NHL.”

SEARCHING FOR NUMBERS

Belanger, meanwhile, is struggling for offence in a big way. Just one goal and nine assists in 33 games.

He’s a resourceful, hard-working guy who’s usually around 40 points a year, but he can’t buy offence right now.

“I thought he’d have a few (goals),” admitted Renney. “But at the end of the day what I want him to do is be very good in the faceoff circle, be a sound defensive player and chip in. For the most part he’s been that with the exception of the latter.

“He just has to keep working and he’ll get his touches and make a difference for us.”

NECK OF TIME

Sam Gagner thought he might be out for a while after an awkward and scary collision Monday against Detroit, but a sore neck only cost him one practice.

“(Dan) Cleary fell on me and my head came down and touched my chest,” said Gagner, who was back on the ice Wednesday in preparation for Minnesota. “It didn’t feel very good at the time, but it feels a lot better a couple of days later and should be good to go.

“I was relieved when I woke up in the morning and have it feel the way it did. I didn’t know what to expect; I’ve never had an injury like that before.”

HEMSKY SICK

Known for sick moves when he’s on his game, Ales Hemsky is just plain sick right now. He missed Wednesday’s practice to deal with flu-like symptoms.

“He’s under the weather,” said Renney. “I’m not sure if we have something going through the room or not, because we have some guys sniffing and snorting. We’ll see. Hopefully it stops right there.”

They sent Hemsky away in a hurry when he showed up sick.

“We’re trying to keep him away from other people,” said Renney. “So if he does have something it’s not a big deal.”

EBS IN A FLOW

Jordan Eberle has been a point-per-game player everywhere he’s ever been — even the AHL, during brief stops at the end of his last two seasons of junior — so its probably no surprise that he’s doing it here.

Certainly not to him.

“I’ve always had confidence in myself,” said the 21-year-old, who has 34 points in 33 games with the Oilers. “People have doubted me, but personally I’ve always had confidence.”

There were 21 NHL teams that doubted him, despite his stellar junior start in Regina, before the Oilers drafted him in 2008.

“He obviously has lots of confidence. That’s No. 1 if you want to have success in this legaue, and he can deliver on it,” said Renney. “He’s also not afraid of the work and going into the danger areas to get his touches.”

He’s producing wherever they put him, at home or on the road, where he has 12 points in 16 games.

“I feel more mature, for sure,” he said, adding every little bit of experience helps. “I’ve played in this league for 90 or 100 games and you learn stuff.”

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca

@SUN_TYCHKOWSKI


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