On the Upshall

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

NASHVILLE -- For a kid who seemed like a sure thing on draft day, Scottie Upshall's NHL career -- 19 games counting last night's visit by the Edmonton Oilers -- has been hit-and-miss.

When the Nashville Predators called Upshall's name with sixth pick in the 2002 Entry Draft, many people thought David Poile might have snagged the sleeper of the first round in the rambunctious Kamloops Blazers forward, a native of Fort McMurray.

Upshall celebrated a Royal Bank Cup with his hometown Oil Barons of the AJHL and led WHL rookies with 42 goals in 2000-01. Many scouts agreed that Upshall's all-around ability and head for the game made him a can't-miss big leaguer.

So far, that hasn't happened. While that shouldn't be confused with tagging Upshall, promoted from the Milwaukee Admirals Oct. 31, a bust, the pace of his progress begs one question. Isn't it about time?

"I think right now, with the opportunity that's here, it's a good time to step up my game," said Upshall. "They want me to get into being a leader."

Upshall, 22, played his fourth game of this season with Nashville against the Oilers last night. He was summoned from the AHL when injuries struck coach Barry Trotz's roster.

The timing of this call-up, with the six-foot, 197-pound Upshall coming off a 46-point season during the NHL lockout, likely represents his best chance to stick with the big club to date.

"It's been a long step, obviously," said Upshall, who played his first game with Nashville a week after his 19th birthday.

Upshall started the 2002-03 season in Music City, but was sent back to Kamloops after eight games. He played seven games with Nashville in 2003-04, but spent most of the season with the Admirals, sipping from the Calder Cup.

After failing to win a roster spot at his latest training camp, Upshall's trying to convince Trotz he deserves to stay this time.

"He's close to being a permanent player," Trotz said. "The thing that Scottie has is he's got really good intelligence as a player. He knows the game. He can play. He's got tremendous speed. He's very competitive."

Trotz insists Upshall's coming along just fine and says there's no rule-of-thumb when it comes to how long it takes prospects to develop. "I think he's catching up to where we expect him to be ... there should never be a time-frame on a player."

That's up for debate. What isn't is that several members of the Class of 2002, like fellow Albertans Joffrey Lupul and Jay Bouwmeester, have moved along the development curve at a far faster pace.

"My game has matured. I think I'm becoming a good pro. When I came in at 19, I was really just a kid who thought I was good enough to play. Now, I know what it takes."


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