With all of the young prospects coming up the system and the first overall pick for this summer’s draft in the bag, it’s easy to forget about the importance of the Oilers’ best young forward currently playing with the NHL team, Sam Gagner.
Part of that is the apparent lack of development; Gagner has yet to match his scoring totals as a rookie, although his overall game has improved by leaps and bounds. That lack of offensive development has some wondering what kind of player Gagner projects as. We’ve seen different names tossed out there; Jim Matheson suggest Stephen Weiss while Lowetide generally prefers Vincent Damphousse as a benchmark.
Gagner’s track record is far better than Weiss’s was at the same age, so I suspect that Matheson’s comparable is underselling things, but I think the Damphousse comparison is realistic. Still, I also think we need more players to compare
One of the difficulties of comparing players across different years is that league scoring hasn’t been consistent; in 1981-82 NHL teams scored four goals per game on average, while immediately prior to the lockout they were just a hair over two and a half.
To make comparisons a little fairer, I went back to the 1980 NHL Entry Draft, and looked at all the forwards who a) were 6’1” or shorter b) played in the NHL in their first year of eligibility and c) didn’t have a truckload of penalty minutes. I then took those players and adjusted their offence to reflect an NHL season in which teams averaged three goals per game, and projected that offence over an82-game schedule. I did the same with Gagner, and ended up with a list of five players who had comparable scoring over their first three NHL seasons:
|Player||Year One||Year Two||Year Three|
Carpenter, Connolly and Fox all have roughly comparable birthdays to Gagner. Damphousse is seven months older over the seasons in question, while Pat Falloon’s birthday makes him almost a full year older than Gagner.
Jim Fox was a tremendously talented player who managed to survive 1980’s hockey despite standing only 5’8” tall. He spent just over eight seasons with the Kings, scoring just under a point per game in each of them, before injury ended his career. He missed the entire 1988-89 season recovering from a knee injury suffered during the stretch drive the year before; he attempted to make a comeback the following year but only played 11 games before being forced to retire.
Bobby Carpenter was the first high school hockey player to jump directly into the NHL. He had a strong start to his career and in his fourth season scored 53 goals and 95 points. Unfortunately, it was a one-off; his scoring returned to its previous levels and more or less stayed there for the majority of his career. After Carpenter turned 30 he became more of a defensive specialist, but in the end he managed to play 1178 games at the NHL level, recording 728 points.
Vincent Damphousse was the sixth overall selection in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft, and after three seasons of decent results in Toronto he broke out in his fourth year, scoring 33 goals and recording 93 points for the Maple Leafs. He would either near or surpass the point-per-game mark every season for the next eight years and ended his NHL career with 1205 points in 1378 games.
Pat Falloon had some up and down seasons after a promising start to his NHL career. He struggled during his fourth season, rebounded the following year with a new team, struggled some more and was dealt again, struggled some more and then got signed by Edmonton; he was okay for the Oilers before getting shipped off to Pittsburgh, and he eventually found himself playing in Switzerland.
Tim Connolly has had an occasionally brilliant career that has been plagued by injuries; when healthy he’s an excellent offensive player and when healthy has been a number one centre since the NHL lockout. Unfortunately, he’s not healthy all that often.
It’s a fairly nice group to be compared to, especially since Falloon’s a full year older and I’m probably stretching to include him in the group anyway. Connolly and Fox both would have had significantly better careers if they were healthy, Damphousse was a very good player for quite a long time, and Bobby Carpenter had a long and relatively successful NHL career.