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Sam Gagner's Furious Start On the Penalty Kill

Sam Gagner has been a special teams weapon thus far in 2013.

Kirk Irwin

Sam Gagner's season has been a bit of a puzzle. He leads the team in scoring and he's looked better to the eye than he has in any season before, but as Tyler Dellow has explained, he and Ales Hemsky have been overwhelmed at even strength, something that's not happened to those two in the past. (Dellow believes it has to do with lacking a puck retrieving winger on the left side). To his credit, he's coming into is own running the power play from the left point, highlighted by his wonderful saucer pass to Nail Yakupov against Chicago:

But where Gagner has excelled thus far has been on the penalty kill. Gagner has been the 4th penalty killer on most nights, but I'm not sure Ralph Krueger had Gagner slated for this much time on the penalty kill to start the year. But with injuries to Ryan Jones, Eric Belanger, Shawn Horcoff and Anton Lander, Krueger's hand was forced, and serendipitously so. Gagner's career short-handed time on ice is reflected in the table below:

Year SH TOI/G Total TOI
2007-08 0.08 7.88
2008-09 0.28 22.07
2009-10 0.08 6.62
2010-11 0.37 25.60
2011-12 0.03 3.53
2012-13 1.83 33.02

At his current rate, Gagner will surpass his first five seasons' worth of short-handed time during game 36 against Calgary.

And Gagner hasn't wasted his minutes. His numerous breakaways have given the Oilers a short-handed threat that they've not had in some time. Though he has yet to cash on one of those breakaways, his work against Columbus set up the game-winner by Magnus Paajarvi:

Through 18 games, Gagner has already spent more time on the penalty kill than he had in any other full season in his career.

His ability to generate chances short-handed shows up in the underlying numbers and ranks him among the very best in regular penalty-killing forwards in the NHL thus far in 2013. His shots against/60 of 34.3 ranks 36th in the league, but his shots for/60 of 14.4 ranks 8th in the league, meaning his sparkling short-handed Corsi On/60 of -41.48 ranks 5th overall in the league. It's still very, very early in the season and it's likely these numbers will regress, it's interesting to frame those numbers in comparison to recent seasons.

A crawl through the data shows that since the lockout, only Ilya Kovalchuk in 2011-12 and Marian Hossa in 2008-09 have generated more shots and posted a better Corsi over a full season than Gagner has posted so this season. Again, the numbers will likely take a huge step away from current levels, but Gagner's performance on the penalty kill has been eye opening.