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Oilers Top 25 Under 25 - #6 Sam Gagner

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He's grown up before our eyes, and he's only one year older than one of the Young Gunz!

The makings of an excellent second line.
The makings of an excellent second line.
Kirk Irwin

"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."

--dawgbone in the summer version of the Top 25

I've long held the same view on Sam Gagner. Couple of his lack of linemates with the development environment the Oilers surrounded him with, and it's shocking that Gagner has pulled through as well as he has. This year is being hailed as his breakout season, and it is, but the hailers are hailing for all of the wrong reasons.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Alan
Ben
Bruce
DB
Derek
Jon Michael Ryan Scott
6 Sam Gagner
08-10-1989
2007, #6 6 4 6 6 4 6 6 6 6

Previous Rank: #6

Nothing much has changed for Gagner's ranking as he holds steady at #6, . Ben and I bumped him up a spot, while Bruce, DB and Scott all dropped him a spot. Alan, Jonathan and Ryan held firm at #6.

But things have changed for Gagner on the ice. His points production is up, way up this season. Gagner has 21 points in 22 games, or .95 points/game. His previous career high was .63 last season, so he's far afield from expectations. His shooting percentage isn't running hot like Jordan Eberle last season, and his on-ice shooting percentage is a tad above expectations, but nothing obscene like Eberle last season. Where Gagner has lucked out, however, has been his Individual Point percentage. Like Eberle, Gagner's IPP at both even strength and on the power play is out of the world. Regress just his IPP and Gagner has 6 fewer points, or .68 points/game, in line with expectations for a player getting better linemates and more talented linemates on the power play. That's a 56 points/82 pace, far more reasonable, but still very good, for a second-line centre.

For a number of years now, Gagner has been assailed as too small, too weak, too one-dimensional to ever be an effective top six centre in the NHL, and that's just from the Edmonton sportswriting contingent. The fans have been far more critical. His game grew from season to season as he gradually took on more responsibility, but the expectations for an 18-year-old in the NHL always hung from his neck like he was Edmonton's ancient mariner. It didn't help that he wasn't a commanding power play presence, wasn't killing penalties, and wasn't a hitting machine. His underlying numbers improved each season, his neutral zone game improved each season, his faceoff reliability even came around. But the visceral results weren't there for fans. Until this season - he's opened with a scoring barrage to lead the Oilers in points.

And then things get weird.

He's become better defensively and learned to use leverage to start to battle and win pucks down low and break the cycle defensively. He even looks good running the Oilers' power play from the left side half-wall and point.

This season, the season where he's hitting yos and hard-ways, he's scoring, but his possession numbers have collapsed. He's become a very effective penalty killer, but his faceoff percentage has collapsed. Oh, and he's become better defensively (more on this to come) and learned to use leverage to start to battle and win pucks down low and break the cycle defensively. He even looks good running the Oilers' power play from the left side half-wall and point.

His points production will float back down into the .6-.7 per game range, but his underlying numbers will rebound, especially as his recent performances with Magnus Paajarvi suggest they may be a very effective duo on the second line. In fact, points per game and possession numbers will probably pass each other like ships in the night as they regress together. He's better on the penalty kill, he's better defensively. He's become a true top six centre.

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