How long does it take to learn something? I don’t mean a new word in a different language, I mean something very difficult and at high speed. Also, you need to learn it so well it’s by rote. How long does that take? Seriously, I don’t know. Where could we find the answer? History is always a nice guide.
PUNCH IMLACH ON GILBERT PERREAULT
The first team I really followed as a kid–and it isn’t like today, where all kinds of info is available, you saw them once a week–were the Leafs of Imlach. I read both of his books every year because the names are so familiar to me. Gerry Ehman, Brit Selby, Mike Pelyk, Jim McKenny, if you were a kid in English Canada in the 1960′s and early 1970′s you knew who they were, owned their hockey card, and had your favorites (mine was Jim Dorey, he was a little out there but man he could play).
Anyway, in 1970 Imlach did with Perreault about what Tom Renney did with Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (and RK with Yak): look kid, take the puck and go with it. Perreault was -39 and -40 in his first two seasons, turning the corner to +11 at age 22 (Taylor Hall’s age now). Plus minus is a rudimentary way of looking at the problem, but the drastic change in his own plus minus (I believe) gives us some indication about Perreault’s development timeline.
My guess is that Nuge is a much better 2-way center at 20 than Perreault, and Perreault was the more gifted offensive player (although the Nuge is a gifted player offensively). Center is a tough position to play–Oiler fans could write a book on the subject–but how long do you wait for a player to turn the corner? How much do linemates have to do with success? As an example, the defensive conscience of the French Connection line was former center Rene Robert. Can a poor 2-way C become a good 2-way winger?
PUNCH IMLACH ON DON LUCE
Imlach had that French Connection line ripping up the blacktop but the key to the Sabres success in those days was their tough minutes line. As mentioned in the passage from his book Heavan and Hell in the NHL, the tough minutes line was Don Luce-Craig Ramsay-Danny Gare during the period Buffalo was at their peak (this was 4 years after expansion, Imlach really was an outstanding team builder).
The Sabres 1-2 C’s in their early glory years consisted of a heavenly offensive center with youth and detail issues, and a 22-year old (when he arrived) whose offense was (up to that point) shy but had a good reputation as a checker.
The Oilers 1-2 C’s currently are a gifted offensive 20-year old who is also adept (if inexperienced) at the defensive side of the game, and a (now) 24-year old whose offense is also quality but is defensively unable at center. Sam Gagner had been trending in a good direction for several years, but last season (the 89-83) and this (although in very few games) he hasn’t been close to good enough in the middle.
Experience is a funny thing. Sometimes you’ll watch a player for six years and it’s obvious he has six years experience. Other times, you’ll watch a player and swear he has one year’s experience six times.
Tom Poti was like that, is Gagner? Sam Gagner is a smart guy, shouldn’t he be able to figure this out? He has terrific skills, but is he destined to be a one dimensional player ala Mike Comrie?
If that’s the case, the Oilers have to move him to the wing or out of town. More important, they need to find the modern Don Luce, pdq.