RE 10-11: Sam Gagner

Sam Gagner is a smart hockey player. His passes exhibit vision and reflect a solid understanding of the moment. And he is 20.

I don’t think we’re waiting on Sam Gagner to emerge so much as waiting for the Oilers to supply Gagner with hockey players. I don’t have an actual count of “butter passes flubbed” but it is up there.

Time and again last season the Oilers would place a Comrie on 89′s line and the team would get an outstanding offensive opportunity or score a goal.

On October 22, the Oilers played Gagner with Penner and Hemsky, with predictable results. Penner was the first star, Hemsky 2nd and the kid third star. The totals for that line: 4 goals, 9 assists, 13 points.

Dustin Penner: “That would have to be the best game of my career, certainly statistically. The stars lined up for me and my linemates tonight. It feels really good. I don’t know the last time I was on a team that bounced back from down as much as we were. That’s one of the games where you know the true meaning of momentum.” The game highlights are here.

Sam Gagner is going to explode one of these seasons. I’d suggest betting on him the moment the coach gives him top flight linemates five games in a row. This kid is the real deal.

•Boxcars: 68gp, 15-26-41
•Shots: 170
•Plus Minus: -8 (on a -56 team)
•Corsi (Rel): 10.9 (2nd to Penner)
•GF-GA ON: 37-43
•5×5/60: 1.56 (4th among regulars)
•5×4/60: 5.74 (1st among regulars)
•Quality of Competition: 12th F
•Quality of Teammates: 1st F
•FO %: 47.4% in 709 FO’s
•Cap Hit: $1.625M (RFA)

  1. What do these numbers tell us? His Corsi was 2nd on the team among qualifying forwards and he was second in total scoring chances despite missing 14 games. He is a cerebral player whose talent is so obvious that he is considered a disappointment after three seasons of 40 or more points. In today’s NHL. Considering the plumbers, also-rans, never-were’s and future Swiss league regulars who graced his wings this past season I’d say Sam Gagner continued to improve.
  2. How Could these numbers be better? The Oilers under Quinn really did have to make hay when the opportunities where there but couldn’t find enough traction for their gifted young players. Dustin Penner’s age, strength and experience won the day for him, but a player like Sam Gagner has not yet developed the strength and skills to make things happen on his own. He needed better linemates, no sin in any season but sadly impossible for this one. Suffice to say that when 89 lined up with skilled men, the ice tilted the right way.
  3. Anything Else in this area? I’m repeating myself but we’re talking about things that will come with time: age, experience and maturity. Gagner isn’t a big man but increasingly we see him win puck battles and knock others off the puck. I think that’s a sign of the development being made. He does have some way to go in the maturity department based on Quinn’s exit interview (he said “Sam didn’t get as many points as he thought he should get” and then proceeded to talk about maturity and wanting to play on the top line being an earned job). This season seemed to be about improving in underlying, subtle ways but I think his breakout offensive season is just around the corner.
  4. His PP number looks good. I think one of the things Renney will do right away is borrow some of Horcoff’s 5×4 time and hand it to Gagner. Although Hemsky and Gagner have somewhat duplicate skills, they should be able to find ways to complement each other with the man advantage. Perhaps Gagner’s role on the PP will be from the point, quarterbacking the play up high and leaving 83 to do his magic between the circles.
  5. Will Renney play him against tougher opposition? We’ve talked about this at length, but ideally you’d like to see Gagner center a soft minutes line with real skill in an attempt to post up good 5×5 numbers. If Gagner plays with Penner on a soft minutes line then the sky’s the limit. With the big man’s ability to dominate down low and Gagner’s soft hands and vision, the other winger should book a flight to the All-Star game. We dare to dream.
  6. Some say Gagner should center two kids, like Hall and MPS? The problem is that they won’t have the puck often enough. I’d prefer the team sign Comrie for LW and then use the kid who is going well on RW. Experience will no doubt be the achilles heel of the Oilers 2nd scoring line this season.
  7. Well, those kids are the skilled wingers you talked about at the top? No, not yet. Taylor Hall is going to score 20 goals but he’s going to give up plenty the other way too. You don’t want Gagner to babysit, you want him to drive the bus.
  8. So, you’d like a line of Gagner-Penner-Hemsky? Ideally, yes. However, Gagner isn’t ready for the tough minutes that line would face. If Renney had a tough minutes veteran line he could use head-to-head against the Sedins (as an example) they could consider that trio. As it is, I suspect Gagner and Penner will be dragging a rookie around some night and Stortini other nights.
  9. This is confusing. Damn straight. The Oilers (since G7, SCF) have always had this galling lack of balance. They could drop Horcoff down the depth chart if Gagner was a little more established, or they could move Gagner up the depth chart if Fraser was a better, more proven 2-way center. The Oilers appear to know about the holes, as witnessed by the events surrounding the trade deadline in 2006 spring. I don’t know why the team doesn’t address these things and suspect it was one of the reasons that the Oilers spent a generation trying for 8th place.
  10. How Important is Gagner to this team? Less important than he was a year ago. A new golden boy (Taylor Hall) arrives at training camp and the club will have to start paying Gagner now. The Oilers will look at him with a more critical eye beginning in the fall. Having said that, I believe Sam Gagner is going to be a very good NHL hockey player.
  11. How are the comps coming? At ag 20, Vincent Damphousse was 75gp, 12-36-48 (.640) +2 on a team that was -36. At age 20, Doug Gilmour was 80gp, 25-28-53 (.663) +6 on a team that was +1. At age 20, Sam Gagner was 68gp, 15-26-41 (.603) -8 on a team that was -56. The comps look good at this time, with our guy trailing the field but still in the photo. Gagner’s Oilers were a Denver boot to offense, scoring 214 total goals (Gilmour’s 293, Vincent’s 259) and I think much of the difference can be explained by Gagner’s playing in more of a deadball era.

By The Numbers
•07-08 5×5 per 60m: 1.96
•08-09 5×5 per 60m: 1.69
•09-10 5×5 per 60m: 1.56

By The Numbers
•07-08 5×4 per 60m: 3.88
•08-09 5×4 per 60m: 3.12
•09-10 5×4 per 60m: 5.74

Predictions Past 2009-10: 78gp, 20-40-60 (.769)
Performance in 2009-10: 68gp, 15-26-41 (.603)

Prediction for 2010-11: 80gp, 16-37-53 (.663)
Give him 2 quality linemates and watch things happen

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