The Vancouver Canucks made one of the more underrated signings this offseason, signing ten-year NHL veteran Sam Gagner, to a three-year deal worth $9.45 million.
Gagner is coming off a career-year with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He tied his career high in goals (18) and had a career-high in points (50) as well.
He was definitely one of the more surprising comeback players in the NHL last year, along with Eric Staal, Kyle Turris, and Radim Vrbata. From afar, it seems like Gagner found an extra gear in his game last season, and looks to be a much-improved player than the one we saw over the past several years.
Going forward, can we say Sam Gagner is just reaching his prime at 28-years-old?
With that question in mind, let’s have a look at his NHL career over the past decade.
Where exactly did Sam Gagner come from?
For many older fans, his last name might sound familiar to you, and there is no coincidence there. Sam’s father, Dave Gagner played 946 games in the NHL for seven different teams including the New York Rangers, Dallas Stars, Toronto Maple Leafs and the Calgary Flames.
In his 17-year- NHL career, Dave scored over 300 goals and 700 points. It is fair to say that Sam has some serious hockey pedigree in his family, as his sister Jessica played NCAA hockey for the Dartmouth Big Green as well.
Sam is one of the several second generational players in the NHL. The list also includes others like Max Domi of the Arizona Coyotes, Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames, and Brandon Sutter of the Vancouver Canucks amongst others.
During his draft year in 2006/07, Gagner played for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. At that time, he played on one of the most dominant lines in Junior hockey, which included future NHL star Patrick Kane and Sergei Kostitsyn. Alongside the aforementioned duo, Gagner went on to score an impressive 118 points in only 53 games.
As the 2007 NHL entry draft neared, Gagner became a highly touted prospect and was eventually drafted by the Edmonton Oilers with the sixth overall pick in 2007.
Edmonton Oilers career 2007-2014
Sam immediately made the Edmonton Oilers roster later in the fall. As an 18-year-old, he had an impressive rookie campaign, scoring 49 points for the Oilers in 79 games.
After the 2007/08 season, it seemed like the Edmonton Oilers have found their new core of young players to build around in Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, and Robert Nilsson.
Yet for various reasons, Edmonton just wasn’t able to take the next step forward and become a playoff team.
Fast-forward to 2010, Edmonton found themselves at the bottom of the standings and won their first of four lottery picks, starting with Taylor Hall. By that time Gagner was considered a young veteran and a key player for the Edmonton Oilers.
Going forward to 2011/12, after five NHL seasons, it seemed like Gagner has reached his ceiling as a perennial 40-45 point player in the NHL. It was disappointing for some Oiler fans to see Gagner not being able to make a bigger impact for the team. Considering that, he was taken before players such as Ryan McDonagh, P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty, Logan Couture and Jakub Voracek in his draft.
To Gagner’s defense, the Oilers management was a mess during that time, and did not give Sam the best environment and supporting cast to get his game to the next level.
Gagner eventually stayed in Edmonton until the 2013-14. Unfortunately for him, he played through some dark moments with the franchise and was never able to experience a playoff game during his tenure in Central Alberta.
However, the highlight of Gagner’s career as an Oiler was his eight-point night against the Chicago Blackhawks in February of 2012. He tied Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey’s record for most points in a game for the Oilers and became only the 13th player in NHL history to score eight points in a game.
Life after the Oilers
In the summer of 2014, the Edmonton Oilers traded Sam Gagner to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Teddy Purcell. Surprisingly, Gagner wasn’t a Lightning for long, as he was traded an hour later to Arizona Coyotes along with B. J. Crombeen for a sixth-round pick.
During the 2014/15 season, he played on an offensively challenged Arizona Coyotes team but still managed to score 41 points in 82 games. He ended up as the team’s highest scoring forward during that season.
Nevertheless, that wasn’t enough to keep him around, as the Coyotes traded Gagner to the Philadelphia Flyers along with a few draft picks for Nicklas Grossmann and the contract of Chris Pronger in the summer of 2015.
Gagner’s time in Arizona didn’t end well, as the Coyotes’ General Manager Don Maloney had some harsh words about Gagner’s play, saying
“ the organization didn’t think he could play center at the National Hockey level for [them].”
Gagner’s career continued in a downward spiral in Eastern Pennsylvania. He scored a career-low, 16 points in 53 games during the 2015/16 season. He was even demoted to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the American Hockey league for parts of the season.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Heading into the summer of 2016, there weren’t many teams calling for Gagner’s service. After things quieted down with big names like Milan Lucic, Kyle Okposo, Loui Eriksson came off the market, the Columbus Blue Jackets made a move for Gagner.
In August of 2016, the Blue Jackets made a low-risk offer, giving Gagner a one-year-deal worth $650,000. Gagner took that deal and made the most of it, and was able to rejuvenate his career as a Blue Jacket.
He scored 18 goals, 32 assists, for a career high of 50 points. 2016/17 was arguably his best season since his rookie season in the NHL ten seasons ago. Gagner also got to experience the NHL playoffs for the first time, playing five games in a 4-1 series lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In conclusion, it was a very successful bounce-back season for Gagner and his NHL career, which essentially inked him a three-year-deal with the Vancouver Canucks this summer.
Is Gagner just reaching his prime?
From what we saw last season, the London, Ontario native appears to have some game left, and the Vancouver Canucks see that in him as well.
Now the real questions are if he is just reaching his prime at 28? And does he have even more to give?
These are difficult questions to answer, but it is not uncommon to see some players reach their peak a lot later in their NHL careers.
A prime example of that includes Martin St. Louis who didn’t really come into his own for the Tampa Bay Lightning until he was 27-year-old. Joel Ward of the San Jose Sharks was another late bloomer. He became a full-time NHL player at 27 years old and had his best year as a 32-year-old for the Washington Capitals.
Gagner’s outlook with the Vancouver Canucks
Heading into the 2017/18 season it will be interesting to see where Sam Gagner fits into the Vancouver Canucks’ lineup. Although Gagner is naturally a center, he had a lot of success on the wing for the Columbus last year.
With Bo Horvat, Henrik Sedin, and Brandon Sutter as the team’s top-three centers, Gagner might be used on the wing somewhere on the Canuck’s top-nine instead.
The projected Vancouver Canucks forward lines could look something like this on opening night:
Sven Baertschi — Bo Horvat — Brock Boeser
Markus Granlund — Brandon Sutter — Loui Eriksson
Daniel Sedin — Henrik Sedin — Sam Gagner
Nikolay Goldobin — Alexander Burmistrov — Jake Virtanen
This means there is a possibility that Gagner could see time with Henrik and Daniel Sedin. Although the Sedins are in the twilight of their careers, they can still generate some offense and might be able to excel in a third-line role.
To their benefit, Gagner is a skilled player with good offensive instincts and could possibly help the Sedins have a bounce-back year. Could there be a match there?
On top of that, the Canucks will likely use Gagner on one of their power play units, considering that he scored a career-high eight power play goals last year. Gagner’s versatility will be an asset for the Canucks, he can play both wing and center, is reliable in the face-off circle, and can be counted on to score sick goals in the shootout.
Taking all this into consideration can Gagner build on a strong 2016/17 campaign and take his game to the next level this coming season. Is 55-65 point a possibility?
What do you think Sam Gagner’s potential is at this point in his NHL career? Do you agree with this analysis? Let us know in the comment section below, and please participate in the poll.
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