July 27 2008 12:16PM
I reference Gare Joyce’s book Future Greats and Heartbreaks in my last post, and I’m going to do it again here. Gare Joyce spent the 2006-07 season behind the scenes with the scouting staff of the Columbus Blue Jackets, flying to Europe and attending junior games all over North America. It’s a book of great interest to Oilers fans, given that the 2007 NHL Entry Draft featured three first-round picks, most notably Sam Gagner. During his coverage of the 2007 World Juniors, Joyce notes that while many fans are under the impression that players are discovered at this tournament, it really isn’t the case. Largely, scouts attend to keep tabs on players their teams have drafted, and each year only a few draft-eligible players appear at the tournament. In 2007, four players stood out: Patrick Kane and James van Riemsdyk of the United States, and Sam Gagner and Kyle Alzner of Canada. Here’s what Joyce had to say about Gagner at the start of the tournament: Sam Gagner’s case is a curious one. The son of former NHL journeyman Dave Gagner and a teammate of Kane in London, he was unexpectedly invited to the world junior tryouts earlier in the month – unexpectedly, because he was invited to the under-18 tryouts last summer and was cut. From the under-18 team, only Angelo Esposito was invited to the under-20 tryouts, and he was quickly dropped. So was John Tavares. Maybe Gagner had a poor camp in the summer, and maybe he raised his game over the fall, but it’s still hard to figure out how he came from so far back and passed so many players to make the Canadian team. It’s interesting to read, and it also makes it clear that this past year wasn’t the first time that Sam Gagner has taken a big jump over the summer. Sam Gagner was given virtually no chance of making the 2007-08 Edmonton Oilers, but not only did he make the team, he posted some genuinely impressive numbers, and more impressively, dramatically improved as the season wore on. By years end he was a legitimate option for the first powerplay unit, and even got a cameo with the World Championship team. This despite the fact that players such as Marc Pouliot, Rob Schremp, Kyle Brodziak, J-F Jacques, Andrew Cogliano, Robert Nilsson, and others were rookie forwards competing for spots. Despite the fact that Gagner was born in August of 1989 (nearly a full year after Patrick Kane), just missing the cutoff for the 2008 Entry Draft. Vic Ferrari had a nice graph on Gagner’s Corsi numbers (shots directed at net – shots against while on ice) over the course of the season, and the improvement is incredible. Gagner’s development since the summer of 2006 has been exceptional, and he’s shown no signs of peaking yet. Despite the nice season that Patrick Kane had, and guys like Turris and Voracek waiting to make their debuts, I’d say Sam Gagner has a good chance at being the best player to come out of the 2007 draft. —Jonathan Willis is the owner of Copper & Blue, a blog dedicated to all things Oil, and a frequent contributor to OilersNation.com.