Sam Gagner will be given the reigns to the Edmonton Oilers top line as the clubs number one centre for the coming season. What Gagner is able to get done with this opportunity, will go a long way in determining his role with the club moving forward. No one is expecting him to put up a 70 point season but the young centre needs to prove he is capable of scoring somewhere between 55 - 65 points. If he is able to do that, I have little doubt in my mind that Gagner will be an Edmonton Oiler for some time.
Look for Gagner to have the clubs two best wingers in Ales Hemsky and Taylor Hall on his line in 2011-2012. While the Gagner, Hall and Jordan Eberle line did not seem to click last season, I feel the chemistry between Gagner and Hemsky should be a good fit with Hall and his shoot first mentality. Hall's freewheelin’ style and willingness to do almost anything to score, will allow his linemates a little more space and time to do their thing. Gagner has to show he is capable of simplifying his game because it has been a constant struggle in his young career. At times, he tends to overhandle the puck instead of moving it quickly to his wingers and then simply find a path to the net to pick up any rebounds. While he sometimes is muscled off the puck, one cannot question his drive to go into tough areas out on the ice. That being the case, driving to the goal should not be much of a transition for him...if he is willing to do it on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, too many nights Gagner tries to do far too much and it ends up being counterproductive. Be it by taking a number of lengthy shifts or just over thinking what he does out on the ice. He will continue to struggle with his consistency until he makes adjustments to this aspect of his game. He is a smart player and he comes across as wanting nothing more than this club to be successful while being a big part of it. He wants to be part of the solution so badly that he falls on the side of being a little selfish at times. Not uncommon with young players but as he matures he needs to realize, that more often than not, doing a little less will result in a lot more good for the club. If he can worry less about being "the" solution and be alright with being part of that solution he and the Oilers would be a lot better off.
Most people seem to forget that Sam will be 22 yrs old when the season begins. Granted, he will be entering his fifth year in the NHL but he still is just a young pup. He hasn't exactly had top notch talent to help with his development and some of the Oiers veteran leadership could seriously be questioned during Gagner's first three seasons.
With a much improved talent pool in Edmonton and the addition of some quality leaders to the group, this will be the best chance to date for Sam Gagner to show what he is capable of producing on a nightly basis. His performance should make it very tough on the organization to look at doing anything other than keeping him in the fold long term.
2011-2012 Prediction: 18 G - 40 A - 58 Pts