Sam Gagner, at all times a controversial player in Edmonton, has been particularly so this season. The impact of an early-season injury – from the time missed to playing with a full face shield to missed time – seems to have had serious repercussions on his play.
Last night may have been his best game of the season, the first sign that we’re back to watching the old Gagner .
The Oilers second line had a pretty good night against the Panthers. Gagner contributed a goal off a lovely Nail Yakupov feed, but more than that the line carried the play against Florida, out-chancing the opposition 6-2 at even-strength.
Five scoring chances came off Gagner’s stick and he was credited with seven shots on the night. Gagner’s only managed to record seven-or-more shots in a game four previous times in his career.
The game against Florida has been the highlight of the season for Gagner, but it exemplifies a trend in recent games: he’s been better, even as the team around him has:
- First seven games: zero goals, one assist, 12 shots
- Last four games: one goal, three assists, 17 shots
Even prior to last night’s outing, Gagner has been on the rise, finally rewarding head coach Dallas Eakins’ faith in him after a lengthy slump. He’s shooting more, he’s scoring more and he’s playing better.
The obvious downside in Gagner’s resurgence comes at the individual level. Where does Mark Arcobello slot in now? The centre/right-winger isn’t going to supplant first-liner Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or specialist Boyd Gordon up the middle. The right wing depth chart (Eberle-Hemsky-Perron) looks pretty tight right now, too. Dallas Eakins has made it clear he wants a “heavy” fourth line, and Arcobello is many things but “heavy” isn’t one of them. Ryan Smyth could be bumped down and Perron returned to left wing, but Smyth’s play has been strong and his skill-set is somewhat unique in the top-nine.
But a personal negative is a team positive. Gagner’s return to top-nine form and strong play from Ryan Smyth give the Oilers the option to move a player out. Maybe that player is Arcobello, who at his current price-point might be attractive to a team in need of scoring. Maybe that player is Hemsky, long the subject of trade rumours, which would allow Arcobello to sub in on that line and take faceoffs for Gagner, too.
Regardless, the music has stopped and 10 people are trying to crowd into nine seats. Right now, Arcobello’s clearly the guy still looking for a place to land.