There was a time when Sam Gagner was the great hope for the Edmonton Oilers. A high draft pick who could post 40+ points and had his future in front of him, Gagner’s slick passes and razzle dazzle made him a crowd favorite. In Edmonton these days, it doesn’t take long to become yesterday’s papers. For most Oiler fans, Gagner is strictly under the fold and probably somewhere near the classifieds. How then does Tom Renney feel about him?
In the post-game last night coach Tom Renney defended his young forward vehemently. When asked by Ryan Rishaug about heat on Sam Gagner and what the young player might be able to do to end the slump, the coach said: "I don’t know where the heat would come from other than outside. Inside we’re really happy with his game and his effort. He’s getting lots of touches he’s doing the right things, he scored an important goal in the shootout although it didn’t matter at the end of the night. Sam’s playing really hard, really well, and so wherever the heat may come from if he keeps playing like this he won’t have to worry about it coming from within."
Often a coach will say one thing and do another, and when it comes to NHL coaches the proof is in the time on ice. If Samwise was in the doghouse we’d be able to see it in TOI totals. Here are Gagner’s TOI’s over the last 5 games.
- November 22: 11:41
- November 25: 16:21
- November 26: 18:30
- November 28: 15:20
- November 30: 18:29
With Taylor Hall’s injury, 89’s playing time has increased, and as he finally gets himself straightened away after a couple of early season injuries the youngster selected 6th overall in 2007 seems to be finding his way.
His offensive contributions have improved, to the point where the 5×5 numbers aren’t completely out of place compared to his scoring history:
By The Numbers
•07-08 5×5 per 60m: 1.96
•08-09 5×5 per 60m: 1.69
•09-10 5×5 per 60m: 1.56
•10-11 5×5 per 60m: 1.91
•11-12 5×5 per 60m: 1.11
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
This is more about the future than anything that will happen this season, but I’m encouraged about how coach Renney is handling young Gagner. By word and by deed, Renney is showing confidence in his young forward despite the lack of immediate payoff. Sam Gagner has all world talent, and anyone can look faded next to the shiny new dimes on the Oilers (just ask Taylor Hall what it’s like to be in RNH’s shadow).
NHL coaches can’t afford to waste talent, despite frustration, injuries, goal posts and luck–good and bad.
Sam Gagner’s history tells us he can be better, and here’s hoping coach Renney is rewarded for playing the percentages. Math and saw him good agree–Gagner’s a player who should be better and is improving. It appears he’ll get the at-bats to prove it.