This is Rick Martin in the uniform of the Montreal (Jr) Canadiens. Martin and Gilbert Perreault (along with Rene Robert) were two of the most exciting players in the NHL 30+ years ago. Perreault would wind up in his own zone and make the breathtaking rushes up ice and Martin would let go these vicious slapshots that ended up in the net about 50 times a winter.
When Martin and Perreault entered the NHL, Punch Imlach just turned them loose. Quoting his book: I’m a hard taskmaster about how the game should be played. With Perreault I just told him ‘look kid, take the puck and go with it. I mean, you’re going to make all kinds of mistakes but if you’re smart you’re not going to make them again. You’re going to develop and build your game up’. It worked for Gilbert Perreault and for Rick Martin the next year. Even Perreault made me shudder a few times, he’d go in front of his net, somebody would take the puck off him and put it in.
Craig MacTavish has often been accused of burying skilled prospects and not giving them a real chance, but I think he would probably agree with the words of Imlach I quoted from the book Heaven and Hell in the NHL. MacTavish may have had a conversation with Mike Comrie or Ales Hemsky in years past that sounded much like the quote above, maybe he’s had a chat with Sam Gagner this season.
I’ve been thinking about Sam Gagner this week, after two separate discussions. One was on this blog when I wrote ‘better than Hemsky?’ on my top 20 update, with Andy Grabia saying: I dunno. Hemmer made me choke on air, even in his rookie season. Gagner hasn’t done that for me. The other was a conversation with a friend that ended with him saying something like “well I think we can agree Patrick Kane is going to be a way better NHL player than Sam Gagner.”
I’m not certain that’s a given in either case. Let’s take them one by one.
Patrick Kane is going to be a better NHL player than Sam Gagner. Kane’s season (32gp, 8-23-31, -2) is more impressive than Gagner’s (33gp, 3-13-16, -7) and Kane will do more to help his club win hockey games this season. Despite being fun to watch, Gagner’s value to team wins this season is in the red by a mile. If the Oilers replaced Gagner with a solid veteran center (let’s say Robert Lang) there’s zero doubt their GF-GA and W-L records would be better.
However, we’re talking about careers here and the race is just underway. We need to factor in things like age (Gagner is 10 months younger) and we need to look at the boxcar numbers listed above closely.
- At EVs, Kane (2.25 points-per-60-mins) is a little ahead of Gagner (2.195) but the difference is minimal. We need to be careful about reading too much into this as Gagner’s number increased markedly after Pisani began playing on his line and a slump can send the number downward. Still, it’s my guess that the numbers here will come as a surprise to some.
- Kane is playing against tougher competition. Gagner (according to Desjardins) enjoys the easiest minutes on the Oilers, while Kane’s are the 3rd easiest (tied with Toews) on the Blackhawks.
- Kane’s -2 is better than many of the Hawks forwards, including Yannic Perreault, Sergei Samsonov and Martin Lapointe. By the way, Patrick Sharp appears to be having a stunning season. Gagner on the other hand sits at -7, tied with Marty Reasoner and better than only Jarret Stoll’s -11 among Oilers forwards.
- Kane is far superior to Gagner on the PP. Their points-per-60 minutes total (Kane 6.86, Gagner 1.52) and their actual point total with the man advantage (Kane 14, Gagner 2) is the main difference between these two players at this time. There is no obvious reason I can find for the gap (save Hemsky being the man for the Oilers), as both would seem to be perfectly suited to the task. I suspect the gap will close over the season.
Kane is the better player this year, but he’s also 10 months older, which at this age is massive. I don’t know that Gagner will end up being a better player, but the statement “well I think we can agree Patrick Kane is going to be a way better NHL player than Sam Gagner” probably needs to be softened to “based on current information Patrick Kane is a better player than Sam Gagner but the age difference and its impact on development needs to be considered.”
‘Better than Hemsky?’ This is a more difficult question, so let’s start by throwing out the age difference (Hemsky was a full year older than Gagner is now when he was a rookie) and restricting our glance at this to their rookie seasons only.
- As a rookie, Gagner is scoring at 2.195EV and 1.52PP on a team that is averaging 2.41 goals-per-game (27th overall).
- As a rookie, Hemsky scored at 2.26EV and 3.52PP on a team that averaged 2.82 goals-per-game (9th overall).
Gagner’s hanging in there at EVs on a team that doesn’t score as much as the 02-03 Oilers, and of course Hemsky trumps him on the powerplay. Gagner is playing the soft parade and I believe Hemsky did too, but don’t recall Hemmer playing with a guy like Pisani (I really don’t recall WHO he played with as a rookie. Do you?) Either way in terms of style Hemsky has the edge, but it’s a credit to Gagner that he’s in the conversation (at EVs) with Hemsky in terms of quality as a rookie.