Sam Gagner is either being run out of town or he’s tying a franchise record for points in a single game. He’s either a quality 2nd line centre or he’s too small to make it as one. In reality, when Gagner plays with competent line mates (something he hasn’t always had), he is a very good player. He’s never going to be a big, scoring C who can dominate physically, but what he will be is a good puck handler who can find open players and isn’t scared to go into the dangerous areas. If people can accept what he is, rather than clamour for what he isn’t, the fan base can concentrate their fury on what’s really hurting this team.
Sam Gagner had a very up and down 2011-12 season. He suffered an ankle sprain in training camp which forced him to miss the first 6 games of the regular season, during which time the Oilers (and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) got off to a hot start. Gagner bounced all over the lineup and just couldn’t produce offensively, putting up just 2 assists in his first 13 games. It’s not like Gagner was invisible though. He put up 28 shots in 13 games (2.15), which was slightly above his career average of 2.04. The puck simply wasn’t going in for young Samwise. Conversely, Gagner had the benefit of the percentages for a few magical weeks later on in the year to make up for it. From January 31st to February 21st, Gagner put up 20 points (9 goals) in 12 games, lead by the 8 spot against Chicago, while also firing 38 shots on net. Most of this happened when Gagner took Ryan Nugent-Hopkins spot in the lineup, playing soft minutes between Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. Once Nugent-Hopkins returned, Gagner was once again looking for quality line mates and he limped to the end of the season with just 7 points and 37 shots on goal in his last 23 games.
Gagner falls 2 spots in the top 25, partially due to another 1st overall pick and partially due to a player who took a giant step forward last year. He was ranked either 5th or 6th by everyone on the panel, which is darn near consensus at this point.
Nothing much has changed for Gagner since Derek Zona’s piece on him last time around. He puts up results when he plays with good players, and good players tend to do pretty darn good when Gagner plays with them. The addition of Yakupov at the draft means that Nugent-Hopkins, Gagner and Shawn Horcoff will all play with a quality RW, which should help all 3 of them this year.
Aside from quality of teammates, one thing that has hurt Gagner has been, well, being hurt.
The previous 2 years Gagner saw his season cut short by injuries. Both years Gagner was in position to see a significant increase in ice time and responsibilities to close out the year and both times he missed out on the opportunity. The start of 2011-12 saw him in a fight for PP ice time that he ended up losing before he could even compete. He was hurt and the Oilers PP got off to a hot start and he was stuck on the 2nd unit for most of the season. It’s not like Gagner has been blowing his opportunities, he’s just been unfortunate in that he keeps missing them.
Being in the NHL at 18 has really done nothing for Gagner but put some unrealistic expectations on his shoulders. Had he been properly brought along (maybe another year in junior), we wouldn’t be talking about having to be patient with a guy going into his 6th NHL season. We would be talking about being patient with a 23 year old who has shown some pretty good things so far in his NHL career. It wasn’t his fault the Oilers rushed him, and it wasn’t his fault his line saw some incredible puck luck near the end of his first season that made everyone stand up and take notice. Gagner has shown that he can play with good players in tough situations, the Oilers just need to find him good players.