With Edmonton Oilers centre Sam Gagner on the verge of making his season debut in tonight's tilt with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the former sixth overall pick had better be prepared for a whole new set of expectations. He will not only be looked upon to produce points at the same pace he did during the abbreviated 2013 season but also show signs of marked improvement in his overall game.
Unfortunately for Gagner, the Oilers dreadful 3-8-2 start will not allow him the opportunity to work his way back into the things. Add to that the fact Taylor Hall is expected to be out of action for at least the next two or three weeks and suddenly one realizes just how dire a situation Dallas Eakins' squad are currently in.
They find themselves in the bottom of the Western Conference standings with just eight points and already sit seven points back of the 8th place Minnesota Wild. Though with the St.Louis Blues sitting in 9th place with fourteen points but having played just nine games, Edmonton is basically eight points out and it's October 29th.
While the safe bet would be on Gagner reclaiming his spot as the Oilers #2 centre, should he not show immediate improvements in his overall game and in the face-off dot, don't be surprised to see #89 shift over to the wing and Mark Arcobello remain in the middle. Regardless of who plays where, one would expect to see the duo playing with Nail Yakupov on a line that would most certainly be used in a soft minutes role on home ice.
Leaving the heavy lifting for the likes Jordan Eberle, Boyd Gordon, Ales Hemsky, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and David Perron. With that the being the case, all Eakins will need from the Arcobello-Gagner-Yakupov trio is to be responsible in their own end of the rink and produce offence against what should be favourable matchups on Rexall Place ice.
The one area Gagner should be able to have an immediate impact on should be the power play. The twenty-four year old has managed to put up points on the man advantage throughout his NHL career and with this club inexcusably sitting 24th in the league with an embarrassing 13.3% success rate, adding a guy who is coming off a year in which he produced 15 of his 38 points on the PP surely can't hurt.
It might be unfair to expect Sam Gagner to simply step back into the Edmonton Oilers lineup after returning from a broken jaw and immediately be his old self but the situation sorta calls for it. There is no question he will have his fair share of challenges to overcome, wearing a full-face shield will most certainly be one of them, but this team needs something to give them a jump start and fast.
Welcome back kid...now go out and produce.