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Horcoff getting the job done

by Staff Writer / Edmonton Oilers
by Marc Ciampa

NEWPORT BEACH, CALIFORNIA - Vincent Lecavalier, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic, Scott Gomez and Joe Nieuwendyk. Going back ten years, these were the number one centremen on those Stanley Cup Championship clubs.

If the Oilers win seven more games in this postseason, you can add Shawn Horcoff to the list.

At the start of the 2005-06 season, there were many questions about whether the Oilers had that top-line centre that could potentially help lead the team to an extended playoff run. When Kevin Lowe didn't make any off-season acquisitions, Horcoff became that guy and had to handle all the pressure that came with it.

"He scored a goal in the first 10 seconds of the regular season, that's how he handled that pressure," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.

Offensively, Horcoff has certainly answered all the questions. With 73 points in 79 games, he finished with 33 more points and seven more goals than his previous career high. But what makes Horcoff so effective is his all-around game.

"First shift of the regular season he scored and hasn't looked back since," MacTavish stated. "A lot of people view first-line centres as a one-dimensional element, the amount of offence they create but he's got a very complete game."

MacTavish had no issues last round in matching Horcoff up with the league's leading scorer Joe Thornton and this round he will be seeing a lot of Andy McDonald and Teemu Selanne.

"Teemu's a great shooter with great speed and likes to take players one-on-one. Joe's more of a setup man with Cheechoo who's the trigger man," noted Horcoff.

Because he has shown such proficiency in the faceoff circle this season, he's a valuable player to have on the ice in all situations.

"Without question. I think he's working harder, committed more to a lot of different battles," said teammate Michael Peca. "Shawn came into his own this season. As well as he started, he got better as the season went on because his all-around game got sharper."

So what happened between the last season Horcoff played with Edmonton and this season? In a word, opportunity. During the lockout, he played in Sweden and led Mora IK in scoring with 19 goals and 46 points in 50 games. His point total had him third in league scoring and fifth in goals and assists.

"That was his primary role in the past. After having a real great year in Sweden last year he got a lot more confidence with the puck and offensively," Peca said.

The only question left for Horcoff was if he could step up his game in the postseason. Now that he's leading the Oilers in playoff scoring and ranks third in the league, that question has been answered in spades.

"I believe he's a very underrated guy. He's very determined in his own zone and capitalizes on his chances," noted teammate Ryan Smyth. "He's such a hard-working player down low and his offensive skills are up there, too."

Having Horcoff at his disposal to throw out on the ice when leading, tied or trailing has been a luxury for coach MacTavish.

"He doesn't leave anything for chance. He's very coachable. Never once has he given any of the coaches any type of attitude," MacTavish said. "Smart, smart guy. Good hockey player."

The fact that Horcoff has continually improved as the season has gone on and is still getting better every night in these playoffs bodes well for his future as one of the top all-around centremen in the NHL.

"Every year you want to try to get better and become more of a well-round player. I tried to build up my offensive game this year and try to be more of a consistent player production-wise," he said. "At the same time, try to become a better penalty killer and be counted upon to play the final minutes."
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