Principe's Blog: Sam Gagner
Gene Principe takes a look at Sam Gagner's place on the team.
Sam Gagner (Photo by Dylan Lynch / EOHC)
To this day I'll never forget what then head coach Craig MacTavish said at the 2007 NHL draft in Columbus ." All this pain and suffering has been worth it..just so we could get Sam." It was with the 6th overall pick that the Oilers took Gagner that summer. It came after a winter of pain (due to injuries Edmonton needed 35 players to get through the season) and suffering (because of 2 wins in the last 20 games of the year). Remember this came after a near magical run to the Cup in 2006. Nine months later there were no playoffs for a club that would finish 25th. As a result Edmonton had the 6th overall selection which was their highest draft position since 1996 when they also selected 6th and took Boyd Devereaux.
In the case of selecting Sam he was the right guy in that spot. He happened to be ranked 6th by Central Scouting. Sam was coming off a monster season with London of the OHL. He put up crazy numbers, 35 goals-83 assists for 118 points in only 53 games. It certainly didn't hurt that he had first overall pick to be Patrick Kane with him, but that wasn't the sole reason for those stats. He then proceeded to put up 29 more points in 16 playoff games. It's no wonder Edmonton was enamored with the idea of selecting Gagner. Two months later, without Kane, he owned the Summit Series against Russia. He was named MVP with 15 points in 8 games.
Then came camp and not since Jason Arnott in 1993 had an 18 year old made the jump from juniors to the Oilers, but Sam did it. He became the youngest player in the NHL that year. He had 49 points and some wicked shootout goals that season. Then came back-to-back 41 point seasons. The development wasn't happening as fast as predicted but last year another step forward with 42 points in 68 games. That led to excitement for this season. Sam and the team were both getting better so his numbers would do the same. An ankle injury derailed any early season jump. He was moved from wing to centre and back before finally tallying goal one of the season in game 20 for him on Saturday vs. Calgary.
The slow production has fast led to rumours of Sam being dealt. That Edmonton has enough offence without him or that he can't provide the offence expected of him. Ales Hemsky could become a UFA this summer (a blog to be written at a later date) and his status as this season continues is uncertain. Hemsky's departure could leave a top six spot open at wing. If Sam stays at centre he would be slotted behind RNH but maybe sharing second line duties with Shawn Horcoff. Pittsburgh has three centremen (Crosby, Malkin, Staal) who all seem to be able to get their points and their playing time. With this team on it's way up there is no need to rush into anything including saying goodbye to Gagner.