I tracked down Sam Gagner at Perry Pearn’s 3-on-3 camp, two days after he signed a two-year, $4.55 million deal with the Oilers, and his appearance and attitude were noticeable different.

Gagner turned 21 on August 10th, and celebrated with a trip to Vegas with some buddies and their fathers, so it is fitting that Gagner showed up in Edmonton looking more mature. Gagner trimmed his hair and shed a few pounds in the off-season, and if looks mean anything he should get off to a better start this season.

“I feel like it was a good summer. I’ve always been taught if you put in the work you’ll be rewarded and I feel I worked really hard this summer and I can gain confidence from that.” After Dave Mitchell from CTV got the lowdown on Gagner’s barber of choice amongst other things, I had a chance to find out why Gagner feels less will equate to more this season.

JG: You mentioned your focus was to lose some weight this off-season. You didn’t seem big last year, so was it a matter of putting it (weight) in the right places or lowering your body fat percentage?

GAGNER: My body fat was always low, it’s just that when you look at me in my equipment I don’t look that big, but I’ve always had bigger legs and been a little bigger everywhere. I think the biggest thing for me is I came into the league at 190 pounds and I want to get back to that. Everyone is telling you as an 18-year-old kid that you have to put on weight and get bigger, stronger. It’s true you have to get stronger, but I don’t think it can compromise your speed either. I’m not a guy who goes out there, runs around and tries to take people’s heads off, so an extra five pounds only hinders me. I tried to drop a little (weight) and I feel good out there and from there it is more mental than anything, so I just need to be in the right mental mind set and go from there.

JG: What elements of your game did you work on specifically this summer?

GAGNER: I obviously want to continue to get more well-rounded, but at the same time I’m an offensive guy and I need to find a way to break out offensively. I worked on my shot a lot this summer to improve that. I put in a shooting pad in my backyard and I was just working on my shot all the time. That is an element of my game that I felt I needed to improve at, but I’m still a passer. When I was younger I had one goal for every three assists, it is just the way my mindset is, as I’m looking to make my linemates better. If I can shoot and have that as a weapon it gives you more space, and more time to look for plays, and I have to be able to get that shot off.

JG: Have you worked on your faceoffs, and if so what did you do specifically?

GAGNER: It’s hard to work on faceoffs specifically, other than gaining strength, and I tried to do that this year. When I skate with my Dad throughout the summer I work on those types of things, the little facets of the game that help you be more successful. Obviously I want to be a guy that plays in all situations, who is looked at by his teammates that can go out in any situation and get the job done. I’m always prided myself on doing that in junior and I want to take that step at this level. It’s an exciting opportunity to fill new roles (faceoffs) and for me I have to work hard be sharp in the small areas and things will work out.

Gagner looks more fit in his face, having lost the baby fat under his chin, and he looked quicker on the ice. There will be lots of focus on Taylor Hall, MPS and Jordan Eberle when camp opens, but Gagner can’t be overlooked.

If first appearances mean anything, Gagner looks determined to take that next step in his offensive growth and become a bonafide two-six forward. If he accomplishes that it should take some of the pressure off his younger first-round-pick teammates and Gagner could become a 60-point player for the first time in his career.