A Boy Named Sue (Sam)


Photo by Lisa McRitchie, all rights reserved.

And he said: " Son, this world is rough,and if a man is gonna make it he's gotta be tough, and I knew I wouldn't be there to help you along."

-Johnny Cash, A Boy Named Sue

 Sam Gagner is an excellent example of what Malcolm Gladwell and Daniel Coyle have been trying to tell us. The theory is that opportunity deep practice and high level coaching / mentoring from a young age can provide a person with extrordinary skills that often are mistaken for innate talent.

Sam's dad is Dave Gagner. He was a high round draft pick, a very good (if not elite) NHL player, and since his playing days has been involved in coaching and scouting in both the CHL and NHL.  Dave is also founded Custom Ice Rinks, Inc., a company that manufactures permanent and portable ice skating rinks. I only mention this because Sam has often spoke of his time spent on his home rink as a big factor in his development.

Lowetide often talks about comparables. He sites Doug Gilmour and Vincent Dampousse as the closest thing to Sammy. I have alway found these just a little bit off. The obvious comp to my way of thinking is none other than dear old Dad.

There has been alot of talk about how high the ceiling is for Sam. Some think he will never be the prototypical (but often not defined) 1st line center that all fans crave. Some talk of trading him while he is still worth something because he is too soft and doesn't score enough. Some want to give him time, he is only 21!

I thought it would be a good exercise to run through Daves career numbers and see how Sammy stacks up so far and where he might go in the future.


First up : Sammy

Post Draft year #1 2007-08 Edmonton Oilers NHL 79 13 36 49 23
Post Draft year #2 2008-09 Edmonton Oilers NHL 76 16 25 41 51
Post Draft year #3 2009-10 Edmonton Oilers NHL 68 15 26 41 33
Post Draft year #4 2010-11 Edmonton Oilers NHL 82 17 27 44 30
     Totals   269 61 114 175 137

(note: I prorated Sammys production for this year).

Now  : Dad

Post Draft year #1 1983-84 Canadian National Team Intl 43 15 22 37 34
  1983-84 Brantford Alexanders OHL 12 7 13 20 4
Post Draft year #2 1984-85 New Haven Nighthawks AHL 38 13 20 33 23
  1984-85 New York Rangers NHL 38 6 6 12 16
Post Draft year #3 1985-86 New Haven Nighthawks AHL 16 10 11 21 11
  1985-86 New York Rangers NHL 32 4 6 10 19
Post Draft year #4 1986-87 New Haven Nighthawks AHL 56 22 41 63 50
  1986-87 New York Rangers NHL 10 1 4 5 12
    NHL Totals   80 11 16 27 47
    Minor League Totals   165 67 107 174 122


The first thing that jumps out at you is Dave's development curve. He didn't see the NHL his first post draft year and then was up and down for the next 3 years. Overall, he spent twice as many games in the minors as he did in the show. Sammy got the promotion straight to the big leagues.

Sammy has produced at 0.65 points per game and Dave at 0.82. Considering the level of opposition they were each playing this has to be considered a wash if not an edge to Sammy.

Now the rest of Daves career.

Post Draft year #5 1987-88 Kalamazoo Wings IHL 14 16 10 26 26
  1987-88 Minnesota North Stars NHL 51 8 11 19 55
Post Draft year #6 1988-89 Kalamazoo Wings IHL 1 0 1 1 4
  1988-89 Minnesota North Stars NHL 75 35 43 78 104
Post Draft year #7 1989-90 Minnesota North Stars NHL 79 40 38 78 54
Post Draft year #8 1990-91 Minnesota North Stars NHL 73 40 42 82 114
Post Draft year #9 1991-92 Minnesota North Stars NHL 78 31 40 71 107
Post Draft year #10 1992-93 Minnesota North Stars NHL 84 33 43 76 143
Post Draft year #11 1993-94 Dallas Stars NHL 76 32 29 61 83
Post Draft year #12 1994-95 Dallas Stars NHL 48 14 28 42 42
1994-95 Courmaosta HC Italy 1 4 0 4 0
Post Draft year #13 1995-96 Dallas Stars NHL 45 14 13 27 44
Post Draft year #14 1995-96 Toronto Maple Leafs NHL 28 7 15 22 59
Post Draft year #15 1996-97 Calgary Flames NHL 82 27 33 60 48
Post Draft year #16 1997-98 Florida Panthers NHL 78 20 28 48 55
Post Draft year #17 1998-99 Florida Panthers NHL 36 4 10 14 39
Post Draft year #18 1998-99 Vancouver Canucks NHL 33 2 12 14 24
    NHL Totals   866 307 385 692 971

Dave spends another year bouncing back up and down and then really hits his stride in his 6th post draft year at the age of 23. He posts 3 consecutive years of better than a point per game and then starts a slow ramp down in point production. His peak years are his 6th, 7th and 8th post draft years at the age of 23, 24, 25.

One thing I find interesting is Dave's rise in penalty minutes that accompanies his establishing himself in the NHL. I did a quick check on to see if he was racking up majors. He has one or two a year against noted knuckle throwers like Paul Coffey and Mark Lamb, but it seems like his 100+ PMs a year are mostly minors.

So, a few of points in conclusion.

- Give Sammy another year or two before we write him off

- Maybe Sam should think about punching Paul Coffey in the face, or at least stepping up his aggression levels to carve a little more space.

- The Oilers only own his rights until he is 25 and can opt for UFA. If he holds to his Dads form, this will be the beginning of his most productive stretch.

- The Oilers could have owned these years cheaply if they had developed Sam at the same pace as his Dad.

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