I’ve never been to Cabo, but if a trip to Cabo recharges you and ignites your performance like it has Sam Gagner’s I think I’ll be booking a trip next year. Since the all-star break, when Gagner hung out on the beach for a few short days, Gagner has 19 points in 10 games. He’s in a battle with Ilya Kovalchuk to win NHL player of the month for February, both have 18 points in nine games, athough Gagner has nine goals to Kovalchuk’s five.
Gagner might get 25 points in February, if he continues his scorching streak over the next four games. He has been incredible over the past month, but when you look closer, Gagner has been pretty solid for more than just ten games.
Gagner started the season on the IR and missed the first six games. On November 21st he had two measly assists in his first 13 games. He wasn’t producing, and he was still trying to recover from a high ankle sprain.
On November 22nd Gagner’s season took a drastic turn.
At 15:22 of the 2nd period, frustrated with not producing, Gagner dropped the gloves with Matt Halischuk and you might be surprised what happened after the fight.
Gagner added an assist on the Oilers 5th goal later that evening, in a 6-2 route over the Predators, but that fight played a small part in turning Gagner’s season around. "I’m not sure why, but after I get in a fight I play grittier and get involved in the game more. I think it’s because after I take a few punches and I don’t get hurt, I realize that I can be more involved. I’m not saying I should fight all the time (laughs) but it seems to get me going a bit," Gagner told me a few days after that tilt.
The mind is a powerful tool. It can convince us we are stronger than we are, and often it convinces us we are weaker than we are. Whether that knuckle-chucking was the catalyst for Gagner’s incredible turnaround is a debateable, but there is no doubting that he’s been on a tremendous run ever since.
That night he assisted on Shawn Horcoff’s goal and from November 22nd until tonight, Gagner has played 39 games and racked up 14 goals and 38 points. For three months Gagner has essentially been a point-a-game player. He’s never been this productive for this long of a period. In the final 34 games of the 2008 campaign he tallied 33 points in 34 games, but up until the past three months he’d never been able to maintain this type of offensive production.
Back on January 9th I sat down with Gagner and he talked openly about needing to find consistency. In that article he was very honest about wanting to become a consistent producer.
I’ve had different clips like this over my career where I’ve been good for 20 or so games, but for me it’s a matter of being consistent for the rest of the year. I had a tough start, coming off the injury, but there was still lots of hockey left and that’s what I’ve been focusing on for the past six weeks and I’ll do the same for the 2nd half. I wanted to find my game and be sure that I was ready every night to play, and I feel that recently that’s been the case. It’s been a tough go the past month, but I want to help the group find ways to win, and the best way to do that is be consistent."
Definitely. You want to be looked at by your teammates and your coaching staff as a guy who you know what you’re getting from every night. I felt like in the past it is something that is hard to do over an 80 game schedule, and it’s something that I struggled with. If I can find that consistency it will go a long ways towards helping the team and helping me contribute to wins. I want to continue to get better every night at that (consistency) and making sure I’m good on both sides of the puck and the last little while it has been that way and hopefully I keep it that way."
It is easy to say we want to accomplish things in life, but it is much harder to go out and do it. Since that night in Nashville Gagner has been very consistent. Only twice has he gone more than two games without a point , a three-game and a six-game drought. However, in 24 of the 36 games that he took a faceoff he was 50% or better. Not only has he become a better point-producer he’s winning more faceoffs. He’s developing every aspect of his game.
I understand when some wonder if this is just another Gagner hot-streak, but remember he’s never been this consistent for this long. He looks more confident in his overall game than he ever has before, and he’s making a case that he, along with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, could make a pretty good 1-2 punch down the middle.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
I’m not certain the last 39 games prove he’s going to be a regular 65-point player, but if he remains close to this pace over the final 23 games, he’s going to make many of us wonder if this was his breakout year. Gagner is still extemely young, he’s only nine months older than Jordan Eberle, despite having three more years of NHL experience under his belt, and it is still too early to accurately say what type of player he’ll develop into.
He’s taken a large step the past three months, and if he can turn that into another solid two months, then it will become increasingly harder to say he isn’t a top-six NHL forward.
38 points in 39 games puts Gagner amongst the league leaders since November 22nd:
Evgeni Malkin 57 points
Steven Stamkos 50
Ilya Kovalchuk 48
Jason Spezza 45
Pavel Datsyuk 44
Claude Giroux 44
Henrik Sedin 42
John Tavares 42
Jordan Eberle 40
Zach Parise 40
Scott Hartnell 39
Sam Gagner 38
Jonathon Toews 38
Ray Whitney 38
Joffrey Lupul 37
Olli Jokinen 37
Daniel Sedin 37
Patrick Elias 37
Radim Vrbata 36
Jason Pominville 36
James Neal 36
Marty St. Louis 36
Marian Hossa 35
Phil Kessel 35
Marian Gaborik 35
Teemu Selanne 34
For the past three months Gagner has been a top-12 scorer in the NHL. You might say it is a prolonged hot-streak, but the longer it goes, the harder it is to argue that this might be Gagner’s coming out party.