PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM

A moment of clumsiness by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has opened a door of opportunity for Sam Gagner. His future with the Edmonton Oilers might well hinge on how gracefully and effectively he steps through it.

With Nugent-Hopkins out of the line-up for the balance of the month with a left shoulder injury – I suspect it’s separated, but that information has not been released by the team – after catching a rut, stumbling and falling into the boards, Gagner has a gold-plated chance to continue the roll he has been on after a difficult start to the season because of an ankle sprain.

Starting tonight, when Gagner lines up at between Taylor Hall and Ales Hemsky against the St. Louis Blues, he’ll be front and centre, literally, while Nugent-Hopkins mends.

Bad luck for Nugent-Hopkins means opportunity for Gagner, who will be leaned on by Tom Renney. He’ll get plenty of ice time and the chance to play an offensive role in the top-six mix – a situation that hasn’t always presented itself, and that Gagner hasn’t grasped, in his fifth NHL season.

If Gagner is going to stand and deliver, the time is now.

MORE DEBATE TO COME

Gagner, 22, has pretty much been a lightning rod for debate among armchair experts, media and fans in the three-plus seasons since he had 49 points as a rookie in 2007-08.

The former London Knight and sixth overall pick in the 2007 Entry Draft has yet to replicate that point total and his past two seasons have been cut short, he played just 68 games in each, because of injuries.

A lot of people, me included, saw this season as the campaign Gagner had to establish where, and if, he fits into the plans moving forward with Nugent-Hopkins, Hall, Jordan Eberle and Hemsky, when he’s healthy, inked into Renney’s top-six spots.

Falling into the boards and spraining his ankle in pre-season, an injury that kept him out early, has only fuelled debate. Gagner has been playing catch-up since then – quite efficiently, of late.

Moved up and down Renney’s line-up and between centre and wing, Gagner has 16 points in his last 19 games and 5-13-18 in 32 games overall. Not bad, all things considered. He’s averaged 15:45 of ice time to this point with a variety of linemates.

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS

Gagner backers see him as a bona fide second-line centre behind the prolific Nugent-Hopkins. Still young and developing, they think he can become a 55-65 point player.

Other fans aren’t so sure, they aren’t sure at all, in fact. They see Gagner as a spare part – projecting as a third-liner on a young and improving roster who really doesn’t have the skill-set to play that far down the line-up. Top-six or bust, it is.

With Nugent-Hopkins out for 10 games if he misses January, Gagner is going to get a chance to have his say and bring some clarity to the debate as the Oilers scrap to stay within hailing distance of a playoff spot.

"I always feel better when I’m playing a little more. I think everyone does," Gagner said today. "It’s just a matter of you’re into it a little more.

"Your legs just feel better when you’re playing more. I think the work you put in in the summer goes a long way toward playing that type of game where you’re playing a lot of minutes. I’m comfortable in that position.

"I’ve just got to make sure that with the opportunity I’m getting, I’m continuing to create offense and help this team win some games. If I can do that, hopefully, I continue to get the opportunity."

Does Gagner feel he has something to prove? Does he feel he’s been pushed aside and passed on the depth charts, and in the minds of Oilers fans, by the kids? Does he see this as a chance to make a statement? Is there a SIUTBOHC factor at work here?

"I just want to continue to push forward no matter what kind of, you know, respect you’re getting or how highly touted you are," Gagner said. "You just want to continue to come to the rink every day with the same attitude and push forward.

"I feel like as the year has gone on, I’ve got better. I just want to continue to improve and help this team win some games."

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  • keilan

    I would prefer to keep Gagner unless a deal for a good young defenseman was available. For example, Gormley, Blum, of Bogosian… someone of that age range and caliber.

  • I think Sam’s upside, which I believe he will get to, is a first line complimentary player. The guy who scores ten to fifteen points less than his more prolific line-mates, but complements the game of other players on his line well. The fact that he’s produced results playing multiple forward positions is a good sign–it means that if they want to move Hall to centre someday and run a one-two punch down the middle of Nugent-Hopkins and Hall, or drop Eberle down a line to mop up some weaker competition, he could slide into the number one line. Maybe he scores seventy points playing alongside Nugent-Hopkins and Hall, who each pot eighty five? I could see that happening.

    But what I don’t know is in what universe that Sam Gagner is not already a proven second line player. Has anyone actually LOOKED at how many points second line quality players actually score? It’s in the range of 40-50 points. You know how much Gagner scores? About 40-50 points. He’s been a little better than that this year, though, after getting a bit healthier.

    And here’s one point to consider; for those frustrated with Gagner’s lack of progress, it’s worth noting that he has been playing in a league that has had its offense dropping every year since the lockout, if I recall correctly. Under those circumstances, stalled production could be considered incremental progress.

    I think Gagner has at least a bit more production at him. Worst case scenario, he ends up being a pretty good second line winger.

  • I did point it out…in significant detail.

    He listed 3 players and their height and gave us no other points of comparison to work with. I don’t have to twist anything.

    *IF* his point is that Comrie failed because of his style of play then there is absolutely no basis for comparison because Gagner plays very differently. The only comparison he made between them was height.

    “FYI” The NHL lists him as 5’11.

    So does Hockey-reference.

    I’m not sure why you consider hockeydb to be a better source than the league.