Sam Gagner won’t celebrate his 21st birthday until Aug. 10, but he has three NHL seasons on his resume and was talking the other day about playing a role in helping welcome young players into the pro ranks with the Edmonton Oilers next season.
While it would be easy to get sidetracked and ask why Gagner has already played three seasons for an also-ran team and burnt valuable years off the time until he’s an unrestricted free agent, that’s not the point.
The maturity Gagner shows is.
So, whether we’re talking Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson or Jordan Eberle, Old Man Sam will be doing his part as the welcome wagon when next season rolls around.
"Obviously, it’s the best league in the world," said Gagner, who put 41 points in the books through 68 games before a bum hip put him on the shelf. "If you can help those guys out any way you can, it’s only going to make it easier on them and it’s going to help the team. If those guys can come in and play the way we know they can, it’s really going to help our team going forward."
Gagner had company in making the jump from the London Knights to the Oilers in the form of running buddies Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson. And make no mistake, it’s a big enough jump without being the only teenager fetching the refreshments and paying the rookie dinner tab in a dressing room full of thirty-something veterans.
"I was comfortable in this room because the guys treated me really well," Gagner said. "I don’t think I would have had the same rookie year I had, had it not been for the guys and the way they treated us. "It’s just something where we want to get back to where we know we can play. Obviously, the guys we’ve signed and the guys we’re going to draft are going to be a big part of it going forward and we’ve got to make them feel as comfortable as possible."
JUST SAYING . . .
— I don’t know if Dustin Penner will even get an invitation to the World Championships with Team Canada — he deserves it based on merit — but I don’t see him accepting it.
Unless I’m misreading the situation, there’s still a residue of bad feelings and ill will between Penner and coach Craig MacTavish despite it being almost a year since the Oilers sacked MacT.
Team Canada will look stupid if Penner doesn’t get an invitation, but I can’t see Penner agreeing to fly to Germany to play for a coach who showed him up more than once over the course of two seasons.
— Still with the World Championships, Ryan Whitney deserves at crack at playing for the U.S., as does blue line partner Tom Gilbert, but I’m hearing that he’ll be having surgery on his right foot immediately after the season ends in Anaheim Sunday. Whitney will have a version of the osteotomy he had on his left foot to repair a genetic condition.
Whitney has abnormally high arches, so much so they cause him pain. With recovery time pegged at three months or so, the sooner Whitney has the surgery the sooner he can resume off-season training.
He’ll be ready for camp.
— Between the possibility of being bought out or traded, I’m thinking the chances of captain Ethan Moreau being back next for season are slim and none — I know, thanks for the news bulletin, Brownlee (didn’t I say he’d be gone by the deadline?)
If that’s the case, who gets the "C?" Whitney’s had some play based on what he’s shown since arriving from Anaheim, but there’s no chance the Oilers sew the letter on a guy who just got here. Penner and Gilbert deserve a look, but I don’t see it. Sheldon Souray? Uh, no.
If it was my call, Shawn Horcoff would be the guy.
GET ON THE PHONE
If the Oilers retain the first pick in the Entry Draft in the lottery next Tuesday, then GM Steve Tambellini has at least two reasons to get on the phone and have a chat with Boston GM Peter Chiarelli. As has been suggested here already, the first order of business is for Tambellini to ask Chiarelli what it’ll take to get his second pick (from Toronto). If Chiarelli starts with "Ales Hemsky," then Tambellini should say, "Keep talking."
Despite Hemsky paying lip service to liking it here in Edmonton in recent weeks, I’m not sold. I’ve chatted with Hemsky often enough that I’m not convinced he’ll re-sign here when his contract is done.
The second order of business for Tambellini, assuming that he can’t get anything done for that second pick, is to ask Chiarelli what it’s worth to him for the Oilers not to take Hall. The Bruins are set down the middle and it makes more sense for them to want Hall than Seguin. Tambellini has to see what it’s worth to the Bruins to have him pass on Hall and take Seguin — which could be the guy the Oilers want any way.
WHILE I’M AT IT . . .
— Please, folks, let’s get a grip and do away with the fantasy the Oilers could have as many as four NHL rookies in the line-up next season.
No chance, none, that there’s room up front for Hall or Seguin, Eberle and Paajarvi-Svensson or Chris Vandevelde, plus blue line prospect Jeff Petry on the back end. I don’t see a need to hurry any of these kids along on a team that won’t contend next season. That includes Seguin, who wouldn’t be hurt by another year with Plymouth, and Eberle, who could develop for a full season in Oklahoma City.
What’s the rush?
— He hasn’t given me the drop on his plans yet, but my best guess is Rod Phillips will hang ’em up after this season, meaning the game call from Anaheim Sunday would be The Skipper’s last.
Phillips, 67, has earned the right to make the call on when he goes, and I’m thinking retirement is starting to look pretty good to him after these past four seasons out of the playoffs.
If Phillips calls it a career, the Oilers should take a long look at moving Bob Stauffer into the play-by-play slot and adding Kevin Karius as the colourman. Stauffer and Dick were exceptional as a tandem this season in the games Phillips took off.
AND . . .
— If Tambellini can move Souray, and that’s a big if, he should use some of that money to shore up the blue line by making a play for either Dan Hamhuis or Anton Volchenkov in the UFA market.
Either one of them could play a shutdown role behind Whitney and Gilbert and add needed experience to a thin group that includes Ladislav Smid, Aaron Johnson, if they offer him a deal, and Theo Peckham.
Two other defencemen worth looking at are behemoth John Scott, who is young, cheap and tough (ask Dean Arsene) and Johnny Boychuk, now with the Boston Bruins. Boychuk, 26, is an Edmonton kid who’d slot in nicely in a second pairing.
— Marc Pouliot deserves another contract.
— Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.