Tuesday, January 08, 2013
Oilers Player Preview: Gagner needs a huge season to remain in Orange and Blue
After putting together a three period stretch that rivaled some of Wayne Gretzky's most prolific moments in an Edmonton Oilers jersey, many felt Sam Gagner was on the verge of taking his game to the next level. Unfortunately for the talented centre, that step has yet to occur and though he is still only twenty-three years of age, Gagner may be on his last legs in Orange and Blue silks.
Though the former London Knights standout looked poised to have a breakout campaign heading into the 2011-2012 season, an ill timed ankle injury (combined with some questionable coaching decisions upon his return to the lineup), left him with a very large mountain to climb.
While Tom Renney did the former sixth overall selection no favours, by using him in a bottom six role upon his return to the lineup. he eventually was elevated back into a top six role. After exploding for eight points against the Chicago Blackhawks on February 2nd, he went on a mini run, that saw him collect eighteen points over a nine game stretch. Problem being, after that run, Gagner went back into his usual Sam Gagner mode.
Despite being handed major minutes over the final two months of the season, Gagner put up just seven points over his final twenty-three games and leaving nothing but a whole lot of question marks surrounding his viability as this club's second line centre.
In perfect world, teams want their so-called second line to compliment their top unit and hopefully take some of those "tougher" matchups, to free up their top guys. With how things currently sit, that will not be possible in the City of Champions.
As much as Ralph Krueger may want to try and free up the trio of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall, that will may be next to impossible on most nights, when that second unit consists of Gagner, Ales Hemsky and Nail Yakupov.
On paper, a Hemsky-Gagner-Yakupov line definitely has potential to do some damage upfront but in their own end, it could be an absolute nightmare. While Gagner has improved in the face-off circle over the last couple of seasons, he is still a liability in the defensive zone and turns over the puck far too often between the two bluelines.
Not exactly strong traits to have, when your two wingers are not exactly known for their strong play in their own end. Ultimately, this will lead to the likely over-using of Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smyth, as both will be handed far too much ice time...for yet another season.
Don't get me wrong, Sam Gagner is a good little player and legit option as a second line NHL centre....just not in Edmonton. With a top six that currently has next to no size in it and the far more talented RNH firmly planted ahead of him in the Oilers lineup, Sam simply doesn't fit the bill.
Being on a one year contract, it is obviously a huge year for Mr. Gagner but unless he has some sort of monster season, it will likely be his last as a member of the Edmonton Oilers.
2012-2013 Prediction: 10 G, 18 A, 28 Pts