Patience is required in order to let things develop in their own time, especially when it comes to youth. One minute kids are failing again and again, the next minute they’ve mastered the discipline and moved to a new level. When it comes to predicting hockey players and their futures, patience is a vital part of the plan.

I’ve noticed  a disturbing trend among the msm early this season. Although patient with the three kids, comments like "it is time for Sam Gagner to step up and I didn’t see it tonight" and "this is Gagner’s chance and despite the two points he hasn’t impressed" have been sliding into our living rooms and vehicles via television and radio.

Deep breath. We need to remember that everyone drafted 2006+ is (or should be) considered a developing player or prospect. Jeff Petry (drafted in 2006) is just starting his pro hockey career, Sam Gagner (drafted in 2007) is 21 years, 2 months old. There are miles to go before the race is run.

If we go back to the beginning, we can re-set the expectations: Gare Joyce, in his wonderful book Future Greats and Heartbreaks:

  • On the morning of the draft, there’s all kinds of cross-talk and scuttle-butt about Columbus’s plans for the 7th overall pick. One thing is certain: The Blue Jackets would feel much better about their pick if it were sixth, and all the more so at No. 4 or No. 3. The way the Blue Jackets and a lot of other teams see it, there’s an elite group of six draft-elgibiles: Patrick Kane, James van Riemsdyk, Kyle Turris, Sam Gagner, Jakub Voracek and Karl Alzner. After this group, there’s a significant fall-off. Last year, the Bue Jackets ranked seven players "top 10’s." This year, just six made the grade.

A "top ten" was defined early in the book as a possible draft pick who could be a difference maker, someone who could develop into a first line NHL player, maybe an All-Star, definitely someone who can contribute to a winning team.I think we need to place Gagner in that context, a top flight young player who can contribute to a winning team. He certainly helped on October 22, 2009 and he can help this season too. However, we need to be patient with him. Prospects don’t develop in parallel lines with past HOFers, they take their own path based on all kinds of factors (including quality of team).

I think this comes from the idea that in being patient with the three kids up front it will fall to others to lead the way. I agree. Shawn Horcoff, Dustin Penner, Ales Hemsky, those men are completely capable of having a consistent impact on the team (positively) pretty much every night. I believe Sam Gagner will get there. But expecting him to develop into that 1line C overnight (as if turning on a switch) is unreasonable.

If "Sam Gagner isn’t developing as I hoped" then perhaps you need to examine whether or not your hopes are reasonable. How much of the offense is vanRiemsdyk carrying in Philly? Voracek in Columbus? The Edmonton Oilers have chosen to fast track yet another generation of kids. That’s not Sam Gagner’s fault. I think he’ll continue to develop and should pass the 50-point mark this season. If you’re looking for 70 points from him, I’d suggest that is beyond reason. According to nhl.com, exactly 15 centermen had 70 or more points last season, while 43 had 50 or more points.

I think Sam Gagner should end up in that group of men over 50 points this season, but 70 seems a stretch. With that in mind, I think pointing to Gagner after 2 games as an underachiever borders on the ridiculous.

  • Lowetide

    I’m not so sure where he was drafted should matter.

    As far as saying we have yet to see the best Gagner will be, it’s important.

    But as far as saying “is he what the Oilers need at that position?” and “is he the solution 2-3 years from now”, I don’t think his pedigree should play so big a part.

    I too see a toolbox lacking. A lack of size usually has to be made it up for with above average speed, and vice versa. I don’t think he’s fast enough–right now.

    Now I do think Gagner will be a better player than he is today, but the question is, how much better? After three years of building, can we see how tall this structure is going to be? The height that the base can support? Will he be a better skater than he is today? Will his shot improve enough to make a difference? Can he find enough time and space against the vaunt as he develops? Can he hold off faster and bigger vaunt centres when they have the puck?

    Patience is very important in developing a team, but so is being open to trade opportunities and maximizing the value of the assets you have. Can you get more from him today then you can as an above average, but not elite, second line centre down the road?

    He won’t be helped by the media and Internet much either. While his boxcars will show some improvement given linemates and TOI, will it be enough for the 1st line centre crowd? How much will he lift his linemates game and how well can he stop the bleeding? He’s going to have his detractors.

    Gagner’s placement on the top line, possibly before being ready, is gonna be heavy ammo for those detractors. He never knocked it out of the park on the 2nd line, so expectations should, but won’t be tempered by the opp he will face. Thornton, Sedin, Toews, Getzlaf, Datsyuk etc. Tough rowing. The pundits might flay him.

    But maybe there’s an important point there:

    Will he ever be able to master that level of player basically just on smarts? And if not, is he a keeper over what we have?

    I’m willing to give him some of this season to show me; I just wish he wasn’t skating uphill.

  • Chris.

    Please bear in mind I’m not saying Sam is a bad hockey player, a really slow hockey player, or a player that won’t continue to develop, produce, and contribute to this teams sucess.

    However the big question reamains: will Sam Gagner become a contributing top six forward on an elite, Stanley Cup winning team?

  • Tha Legion

    I’d be content with Samwise getting hurt right now, that way I could say that he went out a ppg player 🙂 all kidding aside he’s a fine young talent and I personally believe he can break 60 pts but I never stop drinking da koolaid

  • PerryK

    Gagner will probably figure it out and learn to play with Hemsky given sufficient time together, because he is a very smart hockey player.

    Yet, I would like to see them split up for their sanity! Two right handed shots that like to control the play, instinctively end up in the same spot and it happens over and over again.

    I would like to see Gagner play with Penner and Brule. Hemsky can be slotted with Paajarvi and Cogliano (can you imagine the high speed plays!). May be these lines will have more balance on them that way. Might make 3 productive lines.

  • Gagner will be a very good player on a very good team in the years to come. Should be a leader in the future on this Oilers team. Still only 21, and remember only Kane has more points than Gagner from that draft class.

  • I disagree Chris, he looks noticeably faster this year. Certainly fast enough to play at this level.

    Thanks for giving out much needed context L.T.

    He’s trending well and over half the readers here (myself included) were still living with their parents at age 21, not going into the 4th year of a professional career.

    Context is everything.

    • Chris.

      Sure Sam is fast enough to play at this level… but is he first line fast; difference maker fast?.

      Last game my buddy said to me that Penner sure looks fast for a big man. I said sure: he’s skating next to Gagner. Just watch the two of them on the ice next game… Penner just may be the faster of the two when he’s really trying.

      I like Sam. This is the first time I’ve criticised him as a player.(I criticised management plenty for bringing him up as an 18 year old) However, now that Gagner is in his fourth season, has a new contract, plays on the first line, and is being counted on to generate offence, as well as be an example for a new batch of rookies: some measured critism is fair. It is said that players are made in the offseason. I had hoped the much talked about thinner Sam would be faster… and that the much talked about reworked shot would have more sting… I just don’t see it… at least not yet.

      • Jamie B.

        When Penner’s really trying? So that’s, what, 12 percent of the time? Penner IS fast, once he gets up to speed, but again, how often does he show that? Let’s accept Gagner’s faults, he’s small and gets knocked over. Which is why I really hate it when Penner stands around and waits for Sam to go into the corner to get the puck. Something about that doesn’t seem right.

        I agree, Gagner should be looked to for more offence, which is why I’m pleased he has two points in two games. Does the quality of his linemates contribute to that? Obviously, it contributes to anyone’s game. But so far, in this extremely small sample size, he’s done what’s expected of him. I think people are just restless because he hasn’t gone beyond that. Let’s wait a few more games (like 20) before we judge that.

  • Lowetide

    Chris: I think he’ll be able to play at a solid level despite the speed and size. The thing about Gagner is that he’s a very cerebral player (much like Doug Weight, who wasn’t a burner) and when he plays with talented offensive players the numbers are there.

    Thats part of the problem imo. Gagner hasn’t been playing with outstanding talents the last three years (although he’s currently in a plumb position).

    You could make the same argument for Cogliano btw. Lots of 6’s and 7’s but no jacks and kings for these kids.

    Penner and Hemsky playing with Gagner for 10 straight games will be an interesting item to study.

  • book¡e

    I am pretty disappointed in Gagner this year as well, just like every year. Of course, my expectation is that he is going to come clean out my garage and perhaps that is unreasonable because I don’t know him and never asked him. However, that is what I am looking for and until he comes and cleans out my garage, I will remain utterly and bitterly disappointed in him.

  • Chris.

    @ Lowetide:

    My concern with Sam Gagner is the tool box. Sam is a good young player with all kinds of smarts and vision on the ice; but after three full offseasons of training as an NHLer: his overall footspeed and shot are still well below the standard required if he is ever going to be a consistant “difference maker” in this league.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    I for one thinks Sam is off to a pretty good start to the season. He looks like he’s been playin with a chip on his shoulder, he seems quicker on his skates, takes a hit just as good as he gives them out and actually knocks guys off the puck this year! Just because “he’s only got 2 assists” doesnt mean he’s not producing. Sure he might not be as good on the draw as Horcoff YET but he will get better Gagner doesn’t have it in him to take fo’s lightly.

  • Lowetide

    I’m from Halifax so I was sure Voracek would be ours but that changed when LA took Hickey, given Gagner’s summit series heroics I didn’t mind getting him instead.

    • HardBoiledOil 1.0

      well we still don’t know what Turris can do so i won’t judge him yet. he is having a slow start to his NHL career though isn’t he? (though maybe they are wishing they took the next best player which would have been Alzner).

  • Ender

    Lowetide wrote:

    But expecting [Gagner] to develop into that 1line C overnight (as it turning on a switch) is unreasonable.

    Are you insinuating that Magnus PI won’t be our top-line LW by December? HOW DARE YOU, SIR?!!