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One more time for Sam Gagner

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Photo credit:Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
6 months ago
Sam Gagner’s critics have been saying he’s too old and too small and too slow to make a difference in his third tour of duty with the Edmonton Oilers since he got called up from AHL Bakersfield, and they might be right, although I doubt it.
While Gagner, now 34, has put 1,015 games on the odometer since he pulled on Oilers silks for the 2007-08 season after being taken sixth overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, it’s fair to point out that he was never big or particularly fast even in his prime. As for being old, well that happens to the best of us. 
When it comes to Gagner, his ability to think the game and make smart plays has always been a big part of his repertoire. I don’t see any reason why that’ll change as he returns on a one-year ticket for $775,000 to bolster an Oilers bottom six forward group that’s been an empty hole of nothingness in terms of production and impact so far this season.
I understand why some fans have their shorts in a knot because Gagner got the call instead of Raphael Lavoie. The big kid is off to a good start in the minors. That said, old, slow and small Gagner, who is coming off hip surgeries, is a better fit in that bottom six right now. Not a better player. A better fit.

WHAT SAM SAYS

Photo Credit: x.com/condors
“This is where you want to be and I’m feeling good,” Gagner said when asked about his hip surgeries after practice Wednesday. “I think it’s nice to play some games, get back to just playing hockey. I’m excited to get going here . . .
“I’m really happy with how it’s come along. It was more just kind of getting my timing back and getting the feeling of playing in games, but the hips feel great and I’m excited to go.”
In his first six seasons with the Oilers, Gagner played anywhere between 15:41 and 19:25. Breaking in with Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson, he was a lock for 40-plus points. It’s during that stretch Gagner had that out-of-this-world eight-point game against the Chicago Blackhawks Feb. 2, 2012.
While those days are long done – Gagner had a career-high 50 points with Columbus in 2016-17 – he knows his way around the rink. It’s not a stretch to expect a bump in production from him while Dylan Holloway, Ryan McLeod, Connor Brown and Mattias Janmark, all without a point, get their games straightened out.
“I think Sam’s a professional. Sam has good experience in this league,” said coach Jay Woodcroft, who’ll have Gagner in the line-up against Dallas tonight. “He’s been everything from a first-round pick to a first-line player here and has found a way to stay in the league for as long as he has. He has a skill set about him. I think he’s an elite thinker.
“We are looking for more. Can Sam come in and make a play? That’s what our hope is. We’re about to find out. But for him to come in, he’s an accepted member in that locker room. People respect his experience level and his skill level, and we’re excited he’s here.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

“It’s always kind of been a part of my game trying to create offensive chances, having some poise with the puck and making plays,” Gagner said. “Ultimately, I think you have to play hard at both ends of the rink, do your best to be solid defensively, and not give up anything. Then, when you have the opportunity, you’ve got to try and create some chances . . .”
It goes without saying the addition of Gagner on its own isn’t a one-stop cure for all that has ailed the Oilers through eight games, but if he can provide a spark in that bottom six and represent a step up from who is there now – I say he will — it’s worth a look. 

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