Sam Gagner was drafted in the 1st round, 6th overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2007. He was the first player Edmonton took that year in the 1st round as they had three picks. The next two, Alex PLante and Riley Nash, combined for a total of 15 NHL games. Consider that 2007 was a fairly good year for talent. Patrick Kane went first overall, James Van Riemsdyk went second, Kyle Turris third, Jakub Voracek went 7th and Logan Couture 9th, making for some impressive names in the top 10. When we look past 10, there was still a lot of quality throughout the first round; Ryan McDonagh (12), Lars Eller (13), Kevin Shattenrkirk (14) all were great picks, and Max Pacioretty, Mikael Backlund, David Perron, Brendan Smith were all selected in that 1st round and might be considered steals.
There is no denying it, Sam Gagner came with heightened expectations. He finished his last year with the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League with 118 points in 53 games. It didn’t hurt that he was playing with Patrick Kane that year. The Edmonton Oilers definitely saw a superstar in their midst. The struggling franchise really needed a face to match it’s historic winning ways. They seemed to get that as in his rookie year, Gagner, the youngest player in the league that year, gathered 49 points in 79 games. Not bad, but not good enough for the Calder as he was seriously out-shined by Patrick Kane who finished with 72 points in his debut.
But just like Kane he has some filthy moves in the shootout and could really snipe corners.
The sky was the limit it seemed for this young player, but his career never seemed to manage to catch flight. The issue was never about his skill, but maybe more so with his work ethic that he put in day in and day out. While playing for the Oilers he couldn’t top his point total that rookie year even with his 8-point night last year, and has been constantly in the eye of trade rumors for some quality defenseman on and off for a few years now.
It seems that all of the issues and lack of success that Edmonton was having were laid down on Gagner’s shoulders. Yet, the Oilers Brass has rewarded Gagner with a one-year extension for $3.2 million. It is a big contract for a player who chipped in under 50 points and under 20 goals. The team believed in him and gave him a low risk – high reward contract. He had one more year to really prove his worth.
What about this year? Edmonton Oilers are stacked with high quality young talent that is so young that Sam Gagner, a 23-year old himself, can be considered a veteran. With his five full years in the league, it is now in his sixth season that he is really hitting his stride. Maybe it is the talent around him as he has 9 assists in 12 games so far, but his game has changed nonetheless. He is not only setting up plays but he is constantly around the puck. He’s certainly not afraid to get to the net or to get in the corners to dig the puck out to make the play.
We all forget how young this guy is. He still has over 10 years of career left in him at least. The talent that surrounds him is of course only helping him to succeed, but even so, if you asked anyone last year who would be the leading scorer on Edmonton Oilers right now, no one would have mentioned his name. He might not continue this rapid pace, but he is definitely a better player this year and should shrug off any doubts about him being a top-six player.
He is not the only player to blossom late; it took Valtteri Filppula six years to break 60 points, but the difference is that Valtteri was sheltered behind strong centers for those 6 years and Gagner was dumped into the fire from the get-go. David Perron has had similar numbers to Gagner and was drafted in the same round, yet he has only heard praise on his progress while once again being sheltered on a deep Blues team.
So we can see what expectations can do towards a player’s career and now we can just sit back and enjoy watching Sam Gagner’s come to life.