September 29 2009 03:08PM
Fans thinking Pat Quinn was just wagging his fleshy jaw when he talked about a clean slate as the Edmonton Oilers opened training camp might want to note that it looks like Sam Gagner will start the season on the fourth line against the Calgary Flames Saturday.
On a morning when Rob Schremp was claimed by the New York Islanders, Liam Reddox was put on waivers before assignment to Springfield of the AHL and Fernando Pisani and Marc Pouliot were placed on injured reserve, Gagner skated between Ethan Moreau and Zack Stortini.
And, no, contrary to what one wag playing fartcatcher suggested -- "It's not a message for Sam, it's a reward for Moreau and Stortini" -- it is obvious Quinn hasn't seen yet enough from Gagner to feel he belongs higher up in his line-up.
Show me something
Gagner's been a slow starter in his first two seasons, and that hasn't escaped Quinn's eye.
"I'm just going off training camp," Quinn said. "You certainly look at history and understand what’s gone on here. He did, from my understanding, historically have a real hot spot a couple of years ago.
"It’s three years now, the start of the third year. It's time to start moving that up. I haven't seen that part in camp, yet.
"Most people believe that it's there and it’s going to come. For the purposes of preparing for opening night, that's probably where he is going to start."
Gagner, 20, had a quiet and uneventful pre-season with 1-2-3 in four games, but his place in the line-up between Moreau and Stortini at Rexall Place this morning raised a few eyebrows.
Gagner, as expected, spun things as positively as possible in the dressing room as the horde leaned in, looking for the dope.
"I feel like I've got a lot more in me," Gagner said of his performance to this point. "It's one of those things. There's a lot of new things going on, a lot of new systems.
"I tend to be a thinker and I think I'm just over-thinking things right now. I'll settle in, get a little simpler. I'm going to find my game."
After breaking in as an 18-year-old in 2007-08 and struggling mightily at times last season, it goes without saying fans, like Oilers management, are expecting a bounce-back campaign from Gagner.
To this point, though, Sam I Am hasn't shown Quinn enough to warrant top-six minutes. That could change as early as a couple of shifts into the lid-lifter with the Flames, but that's up to Gagner.
"I don't want to read into it too much," Gagner said of skating at the bottom of the pecking order.
"We have some time off, some practice days, where we can really get the dialogue going. I've got to make sure I have the right habits and good practice time."
I'm of the mind the expectations of Gagner -- talk about "upside" and the suggestion by some Gagner should've already displaced Shawn Horcoff as the No. 1 centre -- have been overblown, considering he's had seasons of 49 and 41 points. Apparently, at least as of now, Quinn agrees.
"Part of our job is to bring all these guys to a higher level, including Sam or anybody else," Quinn said.
Pisani out long-term?
With Schremp gone, Reddox on waivers and Pisani and Pouliot on IR, Quinn is suddenly at the 23-man roster limit for Saturday's opener and need not make another move for now.
While that addresses the line-up, if not the salary cap, there is a concern Pisani's bad back could keep him out long term. He had an MRI Monday and the team's medical staff is awaiting results. If Pisani has structural damage, like a herniated disk, he could be on the shelf awhile.
"You can't predict when injuries take place," said GM Steve Tambellini. "It does provide an opportunity for other people, possibly, to get a longer look or a chance to play in positions that wouldn't happen if we had to be down to 14 forwards today.
"It presents opportunity to some players who, like I said, wouldn’t have the chance to go further."
One of those players is Robert Nilsson. Nilsson skated on the fifth line with Steve MacIntyre today.
Ales Hemsky took a quick twirl at the beginning of today's session but left the ice within minutes to rest and get treatment on the what team is saying is a pulled groin.
Rather than risk aggravating the problem and turning it into something that nags Hemsky in the long term, the Oilers are taking a cautious approach with an eye to having him ready for the Flames.
"We don't think it's severe," Quinn said.
"But, for those of us who've been around this business, groins are one of those things that can be severe. It needs treatment now. We want to make sure the pull doesn't become a tear."
Hemsky didn't knock anybody's socks off in pre-season, tallying three assists in four games. It's not known as of now at what point Hemsky injured himself.
-- Listen to Robin Brownlee every Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Just a Game with Jason Gregor on the Team 1260.