Size Up The Middle: Can Nugent-Hopkins, Gagner Co-Exist?

Jonathan Willis
April 20 2012 01:00PM

The Edmonton Oilers are blessed with two young centres who are bona fide NHL players in the here and now, and who are only likely to get better with the passing of time. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the first overall pick in 2011, and Sam Gagner, the sixth overall pick in 2007, are both excellent NHL talents and both fit nicely into the age group of the young forward corps the Oilers have assembled.

Unfortunately, neither stands 6’4” and weighs north of 200 pounds. Do the Oilers need to dump one of the two in exchange for an upgrade in size down the middle?

To answer that question, I decided to go back through all the teams to play in the Stanley Cup Finals since the NHL lockout, and check the size of their top three centres. These centres were then ranked by total ice-time and designated first, second or third line. Here’s the list:

Team Season First Line Height Weight Second Line Height Weight Third Line Height Weight Avg. Height Avg. Weight
Boston 2010-11 David Krejci 72 188 Patrice Bergeron 74 194 Chris Kelly 72 198 73 193
Vancouver 2010-11 Ryan Kesler 74 202 Henrik Sedin 74 188 Maxim Lapierre 74 207 74 199
Chicago 2009-10 Jonathan Toews 74 208 Dave Bolland 72 184 Patrick Sharp 73 199 73 197
Philadelphia 2009-10 Mike Richards 71 199 Claude Giroux 71 172 Jeff Carter 76 199 73 190
Pittsburgh 2008-09 Evgeni Malkin 75 195 Sidney Crosby 71 200 Jordan Staal 76 220 74 205
Detroit 2008-09 Henrik Zetterberg 71 197 Pavel Datsyuk 71 198 Valtteri Filppula 72 195 71 197
Detroit 2007-08 Henrik Zetterberg 71 197 Pavel Datsyuk 71 198 Valtteri Filppula 72 195 71 197
Pittsburgh 2007-08 Evgeni Malkin 75 195 Sidney Crosby 71 200 Jordan Staal 76 220 74 205
Anaheim 2006-07 Ryan Getzlaf 76 221 Samuel Pahlsson 72 202 Andy McDonald 71 185 73 203
Ottawa 2006-07 Jason Spezza 75 216 Mike Fisher 73 208 Antoine Vermette 73 198 74 207
Carolina 2005-06 Rod Brind'Amour 73 205 Eric Staal 76 205 Doug Weight 71 202 73 204
Edmonton 2005-06 Shawn Horcoff 73 207 Mike Peca 71 183 Jarret Stoll 73 213 72 201
Average 2005-11 First Line 6'1" 203 Second Line 6'1" 194 Third Line 6'1" 203 6'1" 200

One point of interest before I get into the size numbers is how ice-time arranges these players. In many cases, the guy centering a team’s second scoring line finishes third in total ice-time – Mike Peca in 2006, Samuel Pahlsson in 2007 and Dave Bolland in 2010 are a few of the unlikely “second” line guys.

Getting back to the main point, the average top-nine centre on a Stanley Cup finalist over the last six seasons isn’t especially big by NHL standards: 6’1”, 200lbs. Pittsburgh’s trio is the biggest on the record here, coming in at a combined average of 6’2” and 205lbs; their opponents in Detroit are the smallest of the group at an average of 5’11”, 197lbs.

The Oilers top three centres today – Nugent-Hopkins, Gagner and Shawn Horcoff – come in at an average of 6’, 192lbs, just slightly shorter and lighter than average. Horcoff and Gagner, listed at 207 and 195 pounds respectively, are both right around the league average; the still-developing Nugent-Hopkins is definitely on the slight side, listed at just 175 pounds. He’ll put on more weight as he gets older, and the Oilers should be right around the average of our group of finalists when he does so.

Looking at the list above, I don’t see a lot of reason why the Oilers couldn’t contend down the road with both Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner on the roster. A slightly older Gagner in his prime might be a solid match for a player like Doug Weight, Andy McDonald, or Valtteri Filppula – he’d be a reasonably good fit as the centre of the secondary scoring line. If Nugent-Hopkins keeps developing as hoped, he might be able to fill the role of a Krecji or a Datsyuk/Zetterberg.

Leaving aside Detroit and Boston – teams that didn’t really have much snarl up the middle when they went to the finals – most of these teams had a hard-nosed guy to complement the two scorers. It’s the role Mike Peca in 2006, Mike Fisher in 2007, Jordan Staal in 2008 and 2009, and Dave Bolland in 2010 all played for their teams. If the Oilers hang on to both Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner, that’s the sort of player they might want to tag to replace Shawn Horcoff when the Oilers captain eventually moves down the line.

Of course, other changes may be needed. Detroit has some beefy wingers, and Boston was famous for the grit (personified by Milan Lucic) and, umm, personality (personified by Brad Marchand) on their wings last season. I’ll be doing this same comparison between Edmonton and Stanley Cup Finalists, only focused on the other forward positions, in the near future.

But for right now, I think there’s an obvious conclusion: the Oilers shouldn’t be in a rush to move Sam Gagner down the line because they’re too small up the middle. Stanley Cup history shows plainly that teams can win with two centres – and in Detroit’s case even three – of below-average NHL size.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#51 Rondo
April 20 2012, 05:00PM
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There are players in the league that can score goals and points when they don't mean much then there are players that score important points. Gagner is a regular season player. Sutter is a playoff player.

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#52 Walter Sobchak
April 20 2012, 05:03PM
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I don't think it's necessary to replace Gagner with like production, in fact Gagner may be used to bring another top pairing D-Man.

Gagner may even be packaged to bring in a gritty tough winger and a legit 3rd line center.

Hypothetical example - Clutterbuck and Brodziak for Gagner and Paajarvi.

Sorry but that boat anchor Horcoff is here to stay so you might as well use him in a 4th line role or find a UFA for that 2nd center or move Hall over.

Edit-That's if I would move him at all. Gagner is valuable to the Olers.

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#53 Tron
April 20 2012, 05:03PM
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Well lets assume we draft Yakupov. Our top two lines would be

Hall,RNH,Ebs Hemmer,Gags, Yakupov

Looks like plenty of scoring but physically, Hall is the only one with some size. I think we need to get bigger and there doesn't seem to be much of a market for Hemmer while there does seem to be some interest in Gags.

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#54 Oilers89
April 20 2012, 05:14PM
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Rondo wrote:

There are players in the league that can score goals and points when they don't mean much then there are players that score important points. Gagner is a regular season player. Sutter is a playoff player.

Are you sure? Brad Marchand with his monster size of 5'9-190 dominated the playoffs last year. Meanwhile Joe Thornton who is 6'4-235 has yet to impose his will in such a way. These are just two examples but what could possibly make you believe that Sutter would be any better than Gagner in the playoffs?

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#55 Walter Sobchak
April 20 2012, 05:15PM
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Besides Hemskys old injury and Hall's injurys due to his reckless nature.

Why all of a sudden does size come into the equation? I'm not sold that your top two scoring lines have to be huge!

I have not seen Gagner out for an extended period of time because of his size! Nor did I see Eberle or RNH be out for an extended period of time because of size!

Do I think Size is important, yes. In your 3 to 4 spots and to have some type of push back.

But to say you need a big body in the middle is just dumb

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#56 DieHard
April 20 2012, 05:23PM
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What wrote:

Hey where'd that lovely tilted kilt lady go to

Why has nobody answered you. I miss her too.

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#57 Wanyes bastard child
April 20 2012, 05:24PM
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@Rondo

Brent, is that you?

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#58 Tron
April 20 2012, 05:32PM
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We have our Gretzky. Who's our Messier? We need some edge on the top two lines.

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#59 kinnickkinnick
April 20 2012, 05:45PM
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Hypothetical:

Oilers first + Gagner for Blue Jackets second + Johansen

I agree its an overpay for us and not even sure the Jackets would do it. Maybe if they throw in Marc Methot?

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#60 Walter Sobchak
April 20 2012, 05:49PM
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@kinnickkinnick

Gagner alone for Johansen, but why make that trade? Doesn't seem logical to lose Gagner for Johansen then lose our first for a second that's like taking 5 steps back.

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#61 kinnickkinnick
April 20 2012, 06:05PM
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Walter Sobchak wrote:

Gagner alone for Johansen, but why make that trade? Doesn't seem logical to lose Gagner for Johansen then lose our first for a second that's like taking 5 steps back.

Yeah I also thought it was an overpay but if I am Columbus I think Johansen is a career center and I wouldn't give him up for a smaller center with an arguably lower ceiling. Something more that Methot for a throw in Perhaps? Oilers would come out of that with a franchise defenseman, big 2nd line center with tons of potential, and another solid d-man. Then it RNH-Johansen-Horcoff as top three and a well-rounded D-core to work from. Takes care of d and center weak areas with one trade.

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#62 kinnickkinnick
April 20 2012, 06:09PM
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Whoa, sorry for the poor edit.

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#67 steven morie
April 20 2012, 06:16PM
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Nice article Jon. I see the point you make, and that both Gagner and RNH are developing. My main concern is the supporting cast already in place around these centermen (Eberle, Hall and presumably Yakupov) all being smaller players/still growing and the other being that Sam Gagner baring a huge jump in production next season is far away from being of the quality of second line center that many of the contending teams had.

You would also know that many under sized players in the league are listed as being larger than they are. My issue with samwise has always been his footspeed and two way play. Although Gagner made strides in his two way play last season i am not sure he will ever have the 'selke' quality of many of the '2cnd' line centers listed above on contenders.

All in all, i feel Sam is just two small and so far, inconsistent, to make up for his offensive prowess. If the oilers are set on contending in the near future i think that Gagner is player that needs to be made expendible (possibly along with another asset) in order to find a larger two way center. I would also take note at the man handling that has happened to many of the respective centers listed above (not including Boston) that has taken place in the first round of this years playoffs by teams who posses size up the middle. Again, if the game and reffing continue to allow for more clutching and grabbing the oilers will be forced to become larger up down the middle.

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#68 kinnickkinnick
April 20 2012, 06:19PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

If I'm reading you correctly, and that's CBJ's second round pick you're talking about, there's no chance I do it if I'm Edmonton.

I wouldn't move Yakupov straight across for Johansen. And I certainly wouldn't move Gagner for a second round pick.

No, I mean 1st overall (Yakupov) + Gagner for 2nd overall (Murray) + Johansen + something more. Who do you think CBJ would have to throw in to make this work for the Oilers?

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#69 jonny94
April 20 2012, 06:21PM
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@Rondo

"Gagner is a regular season player. Sutter is a playoff player"

It must be 4:20 today to make statements like these. Wowzers

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#70 jonny94
April 20 2012, 06:34PM
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Tron wrote:

We have our Gretzky. Who's our Messier? We need some edge on the top two lines.

Last I checked our compared Mark Messier was drafted 1st overall in 2010. He's got a lot of bite, scores goals and like Messier has yet to play a full NHL season in his career. Hopefully this player does something Messier never did..... win SIX stanley cups with the Edmonton Oilers!

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#72 DieHard
April 20 2012, 06:35PM
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kinnickkinnick wrote:

No, I mean 1st overall (Yakupov) + Gagner for 2nd overall (Murray) + Johansen + something more. Who do you think CBJ would have to throw in to make this work for the Oilers?

For some reason I'm getting the feeling Murray is a little overrated. 2 jacks for king is not worth it.

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#74 Oilers89
April 20 2012, 06:52PM
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What would it take to get Jordan Staal? He has been nuts in the playoffs so far. Starting with Gagner+ what would it take? Gagner + our first next year ect? Would that do it?

Edit: I think that Gagner is a good player and I would keep him, but if Staal was an option I would take it. I know I am basing this off of one playoff series but wow does he look good!

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#75 kinnickkinnick
April 20 2012, 06:54PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

I think it really depends on Columbus' comfort level with taking Yakupov first overall. Even before the lottery, people were talking about the likelihood of CBJ moving the first overall pick because they weren't in love with the idea of drafting Yakupov.

My guess - and it's just a guess - is that Columbus doesn't have a lot of interest into moving into the first overall slot.

Yeah fair enough, good point. I guess I would just much rather see a guy like Johansen in that 2nd line spot, then we could stop trying to justify that our centers are not undersized.

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#76 DieHard
April 20 2012, 07:11PM
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kinnickkinnick wrote:

Yeah fair enough, good point. I guess I would just much rather see a guy like Johansen in that 2nd line spot, then we could stop trying to justify that our centers are not undersized.

Parise and Gagner are approx same height and weight. There is nothing wrong with Gagner.

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#77 Rondo
April 20 2012, 07:26PM
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I'll take Brandon and you will take Gagner. Just opinions.

http://www.coppernblue.com/2012/4/14/2948313/nhl-tough-minutes-forwards

Interesting read.

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#78 Spydyr
April 20 2012, 07:28PM
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Gagner is a small player who plays small.Does he ever win a puck battle?

He gets knocked off the puck by a strong wind.Every second shift he cleaning the snow off the ice with his body.

Some small guys play bigger than their size. Gagner plays smaller.

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#79 DieHard
April 20 2012, 07:32PM
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kinnickkinnick wrote:

There are probably a few more nhl players that are the same height and weight as Gagner that aren't named Parise. Probably a few more that aren't in the nhl as well. Doesn't conclude anything.

With that said I agree there is nothing wrong with Gagner, but just suggesting that there is a lot of time spent deciding whether or not the current center line up is up to the challenges of the playoffs, and I guess only time will tell.

I guess what I'm saying is our top 2 centers are doable. The bottom 2 are not, however.

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#80 DSF
April 20 2012, 07:56PM
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Gagner IS Kyle Wellwood.

Nothing less...nothing more.

Championship teams don't have Kyle Wellwood as their second line centre.

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DSF wrote:

Many have tried...all have failed.

Awesome!

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#82 DSF
April 20 2012, 08:01PM
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DieHard wrote:

Parise and Gagner are approx same height and weight. There is nothing wrong with Gagner.

You mean other than Parise scoring 31 goals and 62 points in his second NHL season and followed it up with 65 and 94 point seasons?

Yeah, Gagner is just the most.

Jeebus.

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#83 Rondo
April 20 2012, 08:10PM
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Brandon has potential to be a #2 center or a great 3rd line center.

Gagner has potential to be a#2 center and nothing else. And with one small center already the chances of him being effective as a second line center is slim.

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#84 Oilers89
April 20 2012, 08:15PM
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Rondo wrote:

Brandon has potential to be a #2 center or a great 3rd line center.

Gagner has potential to be a#2 center and nothing else. And with one small center already the chances of him being effective as a second line center is slim.

Gagner is a #2 center with potential to be a 1st line center. Gagner and Sutter are the same age, so what makes Sutter capable of developing further and into a role higher than he is currently in if Gagner can't possibly get better?

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#85 DieHard
April 20 2012, 08:15PM
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DSF wrote:

You mean other than Parise scoring 31 goals and 62 points in his second NHL season and followed it up with 65 and 94 point seasons?

Yeah, Gagner is just the most.

Jeebus.

Was talking size. Was not comparing the players - jeebus, that's nuts. If we had Parise and NJ has our beloved Gagner, would anyone complain about Parise's size?

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#86 JohnS
April 20 2012, 08:19PM
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Edmonton is a very weak team, I could play second line center for Edmonton

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#87 Rondo
April 20 2012, 08:24PM
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"Gagner is a #2 center with potential to be a 1st line center."

Edmonton would have traded him if they could have gotten for him.

You and a few people may believe your quote but not the NHL.

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#88 Oilers89
April 20 2012, 08:28PM
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Rondo wrote:

"Gagner is a #2 center with potential to be a 1st line center."

Edmonton would have traded him if they could have gotten for him.

You and a few people may believe your quote but not the NHL.

I was mostly just stating some random made up fact just to show you how ridiculous it sounds when you say that Sutter can be a second line center that is better than Gagner, and then completely dismissing the fact that Gagner is the same age. What makes Sutter's ceiling so much higher?

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#89 Spydyr
April 20 2012, 08:28PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

How many 8 point games did Wellwood have last season?*

*TrumpCard

About as many games as Wellwood played between Hall and Ebs.

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#90 Rondo
April 20 2012, 08:29PM
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Most teams brought their B game when they played Edmonton. Hard to get up for a 29th or 30th place team.

Imagine how Gagner as a potential #1 center would fare if the brought their A game

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#91 Clyde Frog
April 20 2012, 08:29PM
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@Rondo

The fact that Sutter couldn't even produce half as much as Gagner in Junior and has not once equalled his production level in the NHL = He won't magically flip a switch and become a 60 pt player.

Simple as that, you are not talking about a kid with second line production abilities... You are talking about a 3rd line centre, end of story.

Also provably false, the Oilers games were not worth less points than others.

Sorry... KkthxwtfBBQ!plzdrvonthru!

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#92 Oilers89
April 20 2012, 08:32PM
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Rondo wrote:

Most teams brought their B game when they played Edmonton. Hard to get up for a 29th or 30th place team.

Imagine how Gagner as a potential #1 center would fare if the brought their A game

Yea you are right. Everybody got up for the Hurricanes seeing as they are scary good.

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#93 Rondo
April 20 2012, 08:36PM
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@Clyde Frog

Using your logic Messier shouldn't have scored 50 goals, nothing suggested he would be a #2 center of Left Winger

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#94 Oilers89
April 20 2012, 08:37PM
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Also Gagner never has to be our 1st line center. Gagner can simply be a really good second line center.

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#95 DSF
April 20 2012, 08:39PM
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Archaeologuy wrote:

How many 8 point games did Wellwood have last season?*

*TrumpCard

Gagner - 18G 27A 47P

Wellwood - 18G 27A 47P

Eerie.

Who knew?

* Being consistent rather than scoring close to 20 percent of your season total in a one game blowout has it's value.

** Trump card.

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#96 DSF
April 20 2012, 08:39PM
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Oilers89 wrote:

Also Gagner never has to be our 1st line center. Gagner can simply be a really good second line center.

Well, except for that "really good" part.

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#97 Clyde Frog
April 20 2012, 08:41PM
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@Rondo

Nope Mark Messier put up 33 then 63, then 88 pts in his first 3 NHL seasons. He also vastly outperformed Sutter's Junior point totals, not sure how that point is valid at all?

What leads you to think Sutter will ever break the 40 point barrier again? Blind hope? Man love? Trolling?

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#98 Rondo
April 20 2012, 08:46PM
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I'm not comparing players, one of the greateest ever please, but you do see potential you see numbers.

s/o

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#99 Clyde Frog
April 20 2012, 08:53PM
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@Tigerunderglass

I think his brain finally gave out, that or he had a stroke mid-post...

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#100 DSF
April 20 2012, 08:58PM
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TigerUnderGlass wrote:

Being 22 instead of 28 also has its value.

Wellwood scored .88 PPG as a 22 year old.

Gagner just scored .63 PPG.

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