He was the center of the Brian Burke-Kevin Lowe feud two seasons ago. He was the main resident in Craig MacTavish's doghouse last season. Fans taunted him with "overpaid" chants and were lining up to purchase his ticket out of town.
This season? Dustin Penner(notes) is beginning to prove why he's worth the high price that Lowe paid for him two summers ago when he signed the 27-year old to an offer sheet, gaving up a first, second and third-round pick in the process.
Through 13 games for the Edmonton Oilers, Penner has scored nine goals and 19 points, including a 5-point night against Columbus last week that included standing ovation from the Rexall Center fans. On Thursday night he put up a 4-point showing against Detroit in a 6-5 victory. The Manitoba native told NHL.com's Dan Rosen that making mistakes under Pat Quinn and Tom Renney don't equate to one-way tickets to the doghouse like they did when MacTavish was behind the bench:
"I guess it's just the way Pat and Tom just let me play," Penner said."They don't get too critical. They just let me play my game. My one year in Portland (in the American Hockey League), I just played hockey and ended up getting 39 goals and 84 points. The coach there, Kevin Dineen, he just let me go play my game."
Penner is currently on pace for a career season and has seemingly had a weight taken off his shoulders now that MacTavish is gone and we're now two years separated from the highly-publicized offer-sheet. Though a long-shot, Penner is playing himself into Team Canada consideration, but even he knows that more than likely he'll be watching the Vancouver Olympics from home.
Either way, with the Oilers roster having been hit with the flu recently, if the Edmonton is to find its way back into the playoffs for the first time since their Stanley Cup run in 2006, Penner will have to be leading the way.