November 07 2009 12:18PM
Over the past few years, Patrick Kane has been one of the league’s most-touted young stars. Not in the same vein as a Crosby or Ovechkin, but still he has been generally recognized as a superstar in the making. Still, it might surprise many to know that Sam Gagner (also recognized as a good prospect, but not at a similar level) hasn’t been far behind him in one key area: even-strength scoring.
That sentence no doubt set off some alarm bells. After all, Kane’s been averaging 70 points a season since day one; Gagner, bless him, has yet to crack the 50-point barrier. But a funny thing happens when you take a look at their even-strength production. Let’s do that now.
- 2007-08: Kane – 44 points, Gagner – 39 points
- 2008-09: Kane – 35 points, Gagner – 30 points
A five-point gap. Interesting, yes?
Now, that’s not to say that Kane isn’t a better player than Gagner. Those power play points do matter, and with 35 last year, Kane led a strong Chicago Blackhawks power play. That said, I think there is a tendency for people to look at point totals and say ‘well, Kane’s a bonafide star first-liner, and Gagner’s sort of a fringe second-liner at this point’ and comments like that just aren’t true. Kane, by the numbers was only slightly ahead of Gagner at even-strength last year (the gap was wider in 2007-08, as Gagner had more ice-time at even-strength) and against that to must be considered the relative strengths of the teams they played on – Gagner, on the perpetually sub-par Oilers, and Kane on a Western Conference power.
There has been a noticeable difference in the early going this year, though. Sam Gagner has six even-strength points and four power play points so far this year. Kane has 11 even-strength points, three power play points, and one short-handed point on the season. We could be witnessing Kane’s breakout into a dominant five-on-five player, and so far there’s no sign of that from Gagner.
On the other hand, there’s something most people don’t consider when they compare these two players. Because they were in the same draft class, many think that Gagner and Kane are the same age – and that isn’t close to being true. Kane was born in November, 1988, and Gagner in August, 1989. That’s almost a full year of age difference – so it’s probably fairer, all things considered, to compare Gagner’s 2008-09 with Kane’s 2007-08 (another player to watch for on this – Jakub Voracek who also has an August/89 birthday). This is a good thing – people apply the sophomore slump to Gagner based on scoring numbers, but to put it bluntly that’s complete and utter nonsense. In his rookie year, Gagner was minus-21. In his sophomore season, he was minus-1. Anyone who can look at a positive 20-goal shift and see a slump should move into a different profession, because there’s a lot more to the game than just scoring numbers, and Gagner took big steps forward in other areas of his game last year.
If we make two assumptions: a) that Gagner’s career path follows Kane’s to some extent and b) it’s fair to compare Gagner’s seasons to Kane’s one year earlier, than we’d have some modest expectations this year. We’d expect little improvement in Gagner’s even-strength offensive production, but we would see improvement in his power play production. We would also expect his breakout year to come next season.
Now, this is hardly written in stone; basically I saw some things that caught my eye and decided to write about them, so there’s plenty of room to debate what I’m saying. Since there might be some confusion about what my conclusions are here, I’ll make it simpler:
Sam Gagner was born at the tail end of his draft class, and allowance should be made for that. Middling power play opportunity and production should not blind us to the fact that Gagner’s been a decent even-strength scorer.