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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

AT RANDOM: SAM

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I’ve always been a sucker for stories about underdogs made good or unexpected comebacks. That holds especially true for former members of the Edmonton Oilers because they tend to be young men you get to know a bit along the way when you hang around the dressing room long enough.

A lot of good people have come and gone here over the years because that’s the nature of the game and part of the business, and Sam Gagner is one of those people for me. Gagner spent 481 games over seven seasons here as a member of the Oilers until it was time for him to move on. Great kid. Good player.

I’m getting a kick, then, from the comeback story he’s scripting this season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who come calling on the Oilers at Rogers Place Tuesday. Coming off the worst season of his career, a campaign in which he struggled mightily with the Philadelphia Flyers, Gagner has easily been the comeback story of this season with the Blue Jackets.

Gagner, 27, is off to the best start of his career with 11-8-19 in 25 games with the Blue Jackets after being snapped up at the bargain basement price of $650,000 as a free agent last summer. Like former Oiler teammate Devan Dubnyk in Minnesota, Gagner has gone from looking like he might play himself right out of the NHL to finding his game again with the Blue Jackets.

THE RIGHT PLACE

While Gagner certainly had his flaws as a player here – something made more obvious by having to play higher in the line-up on bad teams than he was capable of – I never had any issues with his character. Gagner was a team player, not a me-first guy. I never once saw him point a finger or talk badly about a teammate during some truly dreadful days here when there was plenty of blame to go around. He was easy to like.

With the Blue Jackets, Gagner is producing more and playing less than he ever did in Edmonton. Sam averaged 17:13 of ice time per game here and produced .61 PPG. Under coach John Tortorella, Gagner is being used further down the line-up and is averaging just 13:37 per game. That’s ninth among Columbus forwards. Right now, he’s averaging .76 PPG, thanks in large part to a red-hot 16.9 shooting percentage. He has 3-4-7 on the power play.

Gagner, like the Blue Jackets as a whole, is exceeding expectations by leaps and bounds right now. I don’t see any way Gagner will continue to score at the rate he has, but, for me, that doesn’t matter. At the very least, he’s shown he’s far from done and unless he falls off the map, he’ll likely earn another contract – not that he needs it with more than $20 million in career earnings – somewhere.

As was the case with Dubnyk, not to mention other players like Daniel Cleary and Kyle Brodziak I’ve come to know over the years, it’s rewarding to see good people overcome adversity, find the right fit and bounce back when it doesn’t work out here after they move on – there’s been a lot of guys like that during this decade out of the playoffs. Good for Sam.

WHILE I’M AT IT

Megaphone

  • Still with former Oilers, after getting off to a good start with the St, Louis Blues this season, Nail Yakupov has fallen off the map. Yakupov, who had 2-2-4 in his first six games under coach Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis, has been a regular healthy scratch and has just one assist in his last 11 games. He’s been in single digits in terms of ice time in his last five games.
  • Connor McDavid, leading NHL scorers with 12-27-39, is averaging 1.26 PPG. That puts him on pace for 103 points this season. The Oilers haven’t had a 100-point player since Doug Weight had 104 points in 1995-96. They haven’t had an Art Ross Trophy winner since 1986-87 when Wayne Gretzky won his seventh scoring title with 183 points.
  • With Sunday’s 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets, the Oilers are 15-11-5 for 35 points after 31 games. They didn’t reach 35 points until Jan. 2 last season (16-21-3), 39 games, and until Jan. 29 (13-27-9), a total of 49 games, the season before.
  • Leon Draisaitl has scored 13-13-26 through 31 games. He has a shooting percentage of 18.8 for the season and he’s 25.0 per cent in seven games so far this month. His career shooting percentage now sits at 13.5.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

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  • testyesty44

    No idea why we traded this guy for nothing. He looked amazing in the pre season then got his jaw snapped in half and wasn’t the same the rest of the year.
    We moved him and gifted the second centre spot to drai once Eakins showed up…. those were the days

    8 points in ONE NIGHT isn’t an accident. good on Sam! happy to see him doing good

    • Derian Hatcher

      Every time I see that name starting with an “E” I get the shivers and my teeth hurt, like fingers on a chalkboard, or metal against metal. What a horrible memory in Oilers history….the Swarm, sort of like the name of a bad movie…

    • MacT's Neglected Helmet

      If you don’t know why we traded Sam, you weren’t paying attention.

      He was bad. He was inconsistent. He was getting worse. He didn’t have a defined role on the team. It was the right thing to do for both the team and the player. Same goes for Dubnyk. Same goes for Yakupov.

      And don’t get me wrong, I ABSOLUTELY blame the Oilers for developing Gagner wrong. He played in the NHL too early. He was given too many responsibilities. He had too many coaches.

      PS: It’s BIZARRE that we will be cheering for Kassian AGAINST Gagner tomorrow.

      • Spoils

        I’ve been sheepishly enjoying Kassian this year, because that slash he gave Samwise has never sat well with me.

        I’d have liked to hear him say sorry to snowpants.

      • ubermiguel

        Gagner is inconsistent to say the least. He might be the streakiest player I’ve ever seen. His defensive zone play was quite poor for a centre.

        And you’re spot on, so much of that is due to rushing him into the league and expecting big things too young. Gagner is why I want Puljujarvi in the AHL.

      • Jay (not J)

        If Gagner puts any of Kass’ teeth out with a wild stick tomorrow night, I’ll look the other way. There was a helluva lot to like about Gagner here. I remember him starting fights to spark his team – all 4’11” of the guy! He had the Oilers’ luck on the faceoff dot, but he had a level of determination that was not common down at Rexall during the lost decade. Wish him all the best – just not tomorrow night.

    • I’ve had some experience with concussions. Sam had a massive one from the Kassian hit and another one soon after, and yet another in Philly if I remember. Once you have one, each successive event becomes more problematic. Sometimes they take a long time to fully recover from, being brain injuries and all. Sometimes you never completely come out of the fog. In Sam’s case he came back FAR too early from the original injury, which was absolutely the worst thing he could have done.

      I’m pretty sure the Oilers knew what was going on and were left with no choice but to deal him for anything they could get. To them he was damaged beyond repair. And he probably was because as we saw he spent the next few years trying unsuccessfully to recover his game.

      For all intents and purposes his career was finished, but he kept trying. That’s what I admire the most. He knew what he was up against and kept working at it, even though the odds were high he was finished.

      Say what you will about the defects in his game but I cannot imagine the pride he must be feeling this year being able to recover to anything near what he once was. Hellvua dig by this young man. Helluva dig.

  • @Hallsy4

    At this point, I might rather have Gagner than Ebs…. If Gagner had played with McDavid most of the season, I think he’d have even more points. I like that he’s not a me first player…. I don’t think the same can be said about Ebs….. I even remember Gagner fighting, something I’d never dream of seeing Ebs do. Ebs best qaulity may be that he can put up points without McDavid….. He may be best suited for the 2nd line, which is probably a good thing on this team. Still, I’d like to see what Sam could do playing with McDavid. 8 point night every night.

  • smiliegirl15

    I can’t believe he’s only 27! It seems like he’s been in the league so much longer than that. Wow. Best of luck to him. His 8 point night was an Oiler highlight for sure.

  • whateverhappenedtoearledwards

    After watching Gagner while he was here, I concluded his value as an NHLer is a bottom 6 forward and pp specialist. He seems to have found this nitch in Columbus.

  • Will

    I actually don’t think Gagner is really doing anything different. Even in Edmotnon he was a streaky player where some years and portions of years he’d be on fire. And in portions or a duration of others he’d be a non factor. If he keeps it up for the entire year, I will say he has improved as I can’t remember a year he kept up good point production for the entire season.

  • Redbird62

    I would suggest Sam’s best start was in 2012-13, when he had 27 points in his first 28 games. No, I do not believe Sam was brought into the NHL too soon. He was 7th in voting for the Calder in his rookie season. He was developing nicely through his time under Krueger. His and many Oilers’ wheels fell off under Dallas Eakins. Taylor Hall seems to be the only one who did not take major steps backwards under his tenure, though aspects of his games failed to develop. Hopkins, Yakupov, Schultz and others all seemed to have bright futures prior to Eakins. Justin Schultz also appears to be turning back into the type of player Edmonton thought they had. He has been outstanding with the Penguins for the last several weeks. I don’t know if Yakupov can recover. The only comfort people can take from the dark years of Dallas Eakins is that had Krueger stayed, Connor McDavid would almost certainly be playing elsewhere.

  • Finnish Oiler fan in Edmonton89

    After I saw what CBJ Signed Sam for I was upset . I would have been fine with sam getting 1 mill for a year from the oilers

    Would have been great right wing depth, we are lacking there

  • VD

    Ebs has 23 points so far , so even tho he has not done as well as he shouldhave with mcdavid , i think he will get his groove back playin with Nuge.He had his chances so far , just not goin in for him .. To trade him for Gagne would be the most stupid move imo, plus we are weak on that right side

  • FISTO Siltanen

    Did Horcoff ever point a finger at anyone during the dark days? I’ve got a hunch he alluded to one or two during his time here. Off the record of course.

  • I hope there’s a decent pop for Sam, he’s put a good chunk of his career here.

    I also hope the Jackets help knock out the Flyers out of playoff contention. So while I’m hoping for a convincing regulation win for the Oil, I won’t be mad if the Jackets get a point.

  • ComeAtMeDog

    Must be nice to be a writer and get to know the players a bit . Especially when it’s winning environment. Sam seems like a good dude .

    I hated Kassian because he derailed Sam that pre season . But I like Kassian now . Hope they can squash it and get over it , if they haven’t already .

    But as for tomorrow . Sorry Sam . I hope u lose and get no points . I’d rather a talbot shutout

  • I did like Gagner and his play here. But I much prefer the larger an grittier team the Oilers are now. Watching Gagner get easily rubbed off the puck down low night after night took its toll. It’s the same right now with Eberle, he can’t win a board battle.

    • I am Batman

      He is mentioning fighting as one of the things that proved Gagner cared and had character. It’s just an example.

      It’s a valid comment to say Eberle doesn’t have the same amount of character, he doesn’t…. how are you going to defend your boy now? He racks up the points?

      Sure, but this year Gagner has a lot of points without playing with Connor McDavid, take a second to digest that.

      Actually your defence of Eberle is the dumbest thing posted on this thread, not the original comment.

  • Ron Burgundy

    Look, I dislike Eberle as much as anyone. Last year I was beating the drum for him to be traded for a D, and I’ve seen nothing from him this year that has made me change my mind. (and Ebs for Barrie is making more sense by the day…)

    But to say he’s a bad player is ridiculous. He’s 29th in the league in scoring right now (good for 11th among RWs). He also put up seasons of 63 and 65 points before Connor got here – good for top 30 in the league overall.

    I don’t like his effort level most nights, or that he avoids contact like the plague, or that the last year or two of his contract he might fall behind Uncle Jesse but still will get paid $6MM a season, but he’s a good offensive hockey player.

  • btrain

    One of the most rational comments I have heard from anyone on here who dislikes Eberle. This is the type of critique that I can respect. Give credit where it is due while maintaining your position. I don’t agree with it all, but that mostly comes down to my personal bias. Well done!

  • Craig1981

    Yes, for one year,on a year we have 2.5 Million left, and then in 6 months we have nothing and the jackets have a 25-30 goal scorers for 6M for 2 more years of a fellow in his prime. I’m not getting your logic