It's fair to say the effort exerted by the Oilers lately has been underwhelming, Monday's rolling over against the Islanders a mere crystallizing summary of past recent play. But if you're looking for a silver lining around the copper-and-blue crew, it's that power forward Dustin Penner is getting sincere Olympic buzz.
Given Penner's NHL resume, which is heavy on potential and short on results, a spot on the Canadian squad representing in Vancouver would have been preposterous in the pre-season. But here we sit, 15 games into the 2009-10 schedule and Penner is perched tied for fifth in the NHL with 19 points – and let's just say it for the record, two points ahead of near-Oiler Dany Heatley.
But is Penner Olympic-worthy? The rumblings aren't even coming from Alberta, so this isn't a homer push, but breaking down the line combinations, Penner will certainly be in tough. Usual suspects such as Jarome Iginla, Rick Nash and Marty St-Louis are locks on the wing and will likely be joined by several other prominent players, including some converted centers. The chemistry between Joe Thornton and Heatley likely gives both of them spots and Sharks teammate Patrick Marleau certainly has to be in the mix as well.
Don't forget young guns such as Jeff Carter, Corey Perry and Jonathan Toews, too. Shane Doan and Brenden Morrow would provide veteran grit. Sidney Crosby, Mike Richards, Vincent Lecavalier and Eric Staal are probably the pivots, though maybe one or two switch to wing.
All in all, that's a lot of talent, injuries notwithstanding. But if Penner keeps up his play and uses his big 6-foot-4, 245-pound frame to cause havoc in front of the net, he can be a sturdy asset. Never one to physically overpower, the fact Penner's worth largely comes from his hands would actually work in his favor for once, since tap-ins from masterful playmakers on what will be a star-studded roster will require deft touch.
There have always been wild cards on past Olympic teams and sometimes the results were less than stellar. But it seems as though the process will be more of a meritocracy than ever and if Penner can put up points, he's got a shot. No matter how troubled his Edmonton mates look alongside him on the ice.
This article also appeared in the Edmonton Metro newspaper.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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