Sam Gagner's Rank Among Under-21 Players

Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images via view2.picapp.com

Sam Gagner is a marvelous player.  He was brought into the NHL early by a management team that needed a good story or three, and despite playing on some terrible teams, he's making his way towards hockey manhood.  Gone are the no-look drop passes to the opponent for a one-on-none breakaway in overtime.  Gone is the fancy play, the extra pass, the idea that cute can beat the speed and brute force of players in the NHL.  Instead Gagner now takes to the boards to win a battle, makes the simple play to move the puck out or up the ice, and is slowly learning when he can unleash what's become a surprisingly effective half-slap shot.

Though his traditional stats have seemingly stagnated, we've previously demonstrated that his underlying stats are moving in the right direction.  His Corsi is progressing nicely, as are his scoring chance totals.  He turned 21 only a month ago, yet he's already played in 223 NHL games and tallied 131 points.  For as much hype as the incoming big three are receiving, much of the Oilers' immediate and long-term future still rests on the shoulders of Sam Gagner.

How big of a deal is it that Gagner has played in 223 games before turning 21?  Below is a list* of the top fifty forwards measured in games played under the age of 21 in NHL and WHA history.  (The WHA did not have the same teenage restriction as the NHL when both leagues were up and running.)

*Table is sortable, click any header to sort by that column.

Player Team Games Points
Tim Connolly Long Island, Buffalo 245 120
Jordan Staal Pittsburgh Penguins 245 119
Jimmy Carson Los Angeles, Edmonton 240 286
Bob Carpenter Washington Capitals 240 204
Wayne Gretzky Indianapolis, Edmonton 239 411
Dale Hawerchuk Winnipeg Jets 239 296
Pierre Turgeon Buffalo Sabres 236 236
Kirk Muller New Jersey Devils 236 196
Patrick Marleau San Jose Sharks 236 117
Brian Bellows Minnesota North Stars 234 210
Trevor Linden Vancouver Canucks 233 180
Scott Hartnell Nashville Predators 232 91
Jaromir Jagr Pittsburgh Penguins 231 220
Michel Goulet Birmingham, Quebec 231 183
Marian Gaborik Minnesota Wild 230 168
Vincent Lecavalier Tampa Bay Lightning 230 146
Ed Olczyk Chicago Blackhawks 228 180
Craig Simpson Pittsburgh, Edmonton 228 169
Ilya Kovalchuk Atlanta Thrashers 227 205
Wayne Dillon New York, Toronto 227 205
John Tonelli Houston Aeros 224 150
Sam Gagner Edmonton Oilers 223 131
Real Cloutier Quebec Nordiques 219 308
Radek Dvorak Florida Panthers 219 102
Grant Mulvey Chicago Black Hawks 218 63
Joe Thornton Boston Bruins 217 108
Dainius Zubrus Philadelphia, Montreal 217 70
Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins 213 294
Chris Gratton Tampa Bay Lightning 212 107
Steve Yzerman Detroit Red Wings 211 218
Ron Francis Hartford Whalers 210 241
Jeff Friesen San Jose Sharks 209 133
Rick Hampton California, Cleveland 208 116
Mario Tremblay Montreal Canadiens 208 112
Owen Nolan Quebec Nordiques 207 163
Dan Quinn Calgary Flames 206 182
Cam Neely Vancouver Canucks 201 104
Mark Messier Edmonton Oilers 199 107
Doug Smith Los Angeles Kings 194 88
Alexandre Daigle Ottawa Senators 181 105
Dave Archibald Minnesota North Stars 181 77
Jason Wiemer Tampa Bay Lightning 165 37
Pat Verbeek New Jersey Devils 163 85
Brian Lawton Minnesota North Stars 163 77
Patrick Kane Chicago Blackhawks 162 142
Steven Stamkos Tampa Bay Lightning 161 141
Jakub Voracek Columbus Blue Jackets 161 88
Mats Sundin Quebec Nordiques 160 135
Sergei Samsonov Boston Bruins 160 98

 

Gagner places 22nd all-time in games played by players under the age of 21.  It's impressive company - the names on the list read like a who's who of hockey since 1980.

What about those stagnating traditional stats?  Below is another sortable table of the top fifty forwards measured by points scored under the age of 21.

 

Player Team Points Games
Wayne Gretzky Indianapolis, Edmonton 411 239
Real Cloutier Quebec Nordiques 308 219
Dale Hawerchuk Winnipeg Jets 296 239
Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins 294 213
Jimmy Carson Los Angeles, Edmonton 286 240
Ron Francis Hartford Whalers 241 210
Mario Lemieux Pittsburgh Penguins 241 152
Pierre Turgeon Buffalo Sabres 236 236
Jaromir Jagr Pittsburgh Penguins 220 231
Steve Yzerman Detroit Red Wings 218 211
Brian Bellows Minnesota North Stars 210 234
Ilya Kovalchuk Atlanta Thrashers 205 227
Wayne Dillon New York, Toronto 205 227
Bob Carpenter Washington Capitals 204 240
Kirk Muller New Jersey Devils 196 236
Denis Savard Chicago Black Hawks 194 156
Mark Napier Birmingham, Toronto 189 158
Michel Goulet Birmingham, Quebec 183 231
Dan Quinn Calgary Flames 182 206
Trevor Linden Vancouver Canucks 180 233
Ed Olczyk Chicago Blackhawks 180 228
Pierre Larouche Pittsburgh Penguins 179 155
Eric Lindros Philadelphia Flyers 172 126
Craig Simpson Pittsburgh, Edmonton 169 228
Marian Gaborik Minnesota Wild 168 230
Bryan Trottier New York Islanders 167 156
Joe Sakic Quebec Nordiques 164 150
Owen Nolan Quebec Nordiques 163 207
Rob Brown Pittsburgh Penguins 159 119
John Tonelli Houston Aeros 150 224
Vincent Lecavalier Tampa Bay Lightning 146 230
Patrick Kane Chicago Blackhawks 142 162
Steven Stamkos Tampa Bay Lightning 141 161
Mike Modano Minnesota North Stars 139 159
Anze Kopitar Los Angeles Kings 138 154
Mats Sundin Quebec Nordiques 135 160
Sylvain Turgeon Hartford Whalers 134 140
Jeff Friesen San Jose Sharks 133 209
Sam Gagner Edmonton Oilers 131 223
Pat LaFontaine New York Islanders 126 147
Jonathan Toews Chicago Blackhawks 123 146
Geoff Sanderson Hartford Whalers 121 148
Tim Connolly Long Islands, Buffalo 120 245
Mike Gartner Cincinnati, Washington 120 155
Jordan Staal Pittsburgh Penguins 119 245
Patrick Marleau San Jose Sharks 117 236
Dave Andreychuk Buffalo Sabres 117 121
Rick Hampton California, Cleveland 116 208
Peter Zezel Philadelphia Flyers 115 144
Mario Tremblay Montreal Canadiens 112 208

 

Gagner is 39th by this measure, and once again, the players in front of him made up the guts of the 80s and 90s All-Star teams.

Gagner's points per game suffer, but Jonathan Willis has shown that Gagner suffers because of era effects, and the aforementioned team effects.  Gagner has also yet to benefit from the power play like others on the list.  Steven Stamkos played 80% more than Gagner with a man advantage.  Patrick Kane played nearly 25% more than Gagner.  Sidney Crosby played more than twice the amount of power play time as a 20-year-old.  Vincent Lecavalier played nearly 2.5 times more on the power play at age 20.

As Gagner enters his fourth season, he's set to play a bigger role for the Oilers at both even strength and on the power play.  His underlying growth curve looks great, and in Tom Renney, the Oilers have a tactician in the mold of Craig MacTavish, one who should find opportunities to take advantage of competition and starting positions, especially for a center like Gagner.  With his pedigree and a step forward this season, Gagner is set to be a cornerstone in Edmonton for the next decade.

Stats courtesy Gabriel Desjardins and Behind The Net Hockey.

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