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NEWS

Gagner excited about opportunity on one-year deal

Sam Gagner signs a one-year, $3.2M contract to avoid salary arbitration hearing

Friday, 20.07.2012 / 1:30 PM / News
By Ryan Dittrick  - edmontonoilers.com
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Gagner excited about opportunity on one-year deal
Sam Gagner (left) scored 18 goals and 47 points in 75 games last season (Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club).
Edmonton, AB - Just as the Oilers do, Sam Gagner sees his new one-year, $3.2M contract as an opportunity.

The 22-year-old centre avoided a 9:00am salary arbitration hearing Friday, agreeing to a deal with his agent Jeff Jackson mere minutes before the hearing was set to begin.

The last Oiler to reach arbitration was Jason Smith in 2002.

Since cracking the squad in 2007, Gagner has collected 220 points in 366 career NHL games. He's yet to surpass the 49-point total he racked up in his rookie season, however, leaving some wondering where he stacks up development-wise against his peers in orange and blue.

Given that he doesn't reach UFA status until the summer of 2014, the one-year agreement is a suitable audition for a longer-term deal (or otherwise) next summer.

"I think it was good," Gagner said of his 2011-12 campaign in which he notched a career-best 18 goals and +5 rating. "There were some real high times; I still need to continue to work on ironing out the low times and making sure they're not happening as often.

"There's still an opportunity to stay in Edmonton long-term. I need to have another good year and continue to solidify myself as a good NHL player and reach new levels. I'm excited about that opportunity and excited to get going next year."

Entering his sixth pro season, Gagner's greatest challenge to this point has been producing at a consistent level. Last season's highlight was memorable eight-point night vs. Chicago. Within a week afterward, he'd collected another six.

But those 14 points scored in only four games accounted for nearly 30% of his total production last season.

"I'm working on balancing that consistency and helping the team reach another level," Gagner said. "If I'm at the top of my game all year, it's going to help our group."

"Consistency is something he wants to improve on and it's something we'd like to see," added Assistant General Manager Ricky Olczyk, who was on location in Toronto to be the Oilers' eyes and ears during the negotiation and possible arbitration process. "We saw glimpses of it last year and he had several stretches where he was really hot, but we want him to be more productive throughout the season. I think he's capable of doing that and I know he knows he's capable of doing that. We're anxious to see him accomplish it."

Gagner will head into the 2012-13 season as the club's second-line centre behind soon-to-be-sophomore Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. As a veteran (even at such a young age), the London, Ontario native sees the experience he's gained as valuable asset both on and off the ice.

"It's something that not a lot of players get a chance to do," he said about stepping into the league at 18. "I can help out the younger players because of that and I feel like I've learned a lot -- and I'm going to continue to learn and probably learn a lot from them, too.

"It's an exciting time to be an Oiler. It's important for us to grow together and learn how to win together."

Gagner was still playing for the USHL's Sioux City Musketeers the last time the Oilers appeared in the post-season (2006). Without question, he's earmarked 2012-13 as an opportunity to crack his pro-playoff goose egg. When asked if it adds any extra pressure, Gagner said it's a necessary component to growing a winning culture.

"There has to be some extra pressure on everyone," he explained. "We haven't done as well as we would have liked in the past couple years, so we have to add that internal pressure where we're trying to get better and push each other to new heights. We need to be pushing for a playoff spot and getting back to that level that we should be at.

"That has to be our goal. We can't be in a situation where if things go wrong this year where saying, 'There's always next year.' It's happened too much and it has to be a case where we put pressure on ourselves every day to avoid it."

If Gagner can, indeed, stake claim to a pivotal role as one of the Oilers' offensive cornerstones, 2012-13 will have been the reason. And it's the experience and leadership he's gained to this point that will have helped him push through to break out.

"He's only 22 years old and he's got plenty of good days ahead of him," Olczyk said. "It's a good thing for Sam and it's a great opportunity to take [his career] to a whole new level.

"That's the key word, 'opportunity.'"

-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick

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