The 18-year-old star centre of the recent Canada-Russia Super Series lit up the scoreboard for two goals and two assists Sunday after he was placed between Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner for Sunday’s intrasquad wrapup game.
The highlight goal was a backhand feed from a streaking Hemsky that Gagner took at the left faceoff dot and rifled over the shoulder of No. 1 netminder Dwayne Roloson.
The son of former NHLer Dave Gagner was to get his first taste of NHL game action Monday night against the Florida Panthers.
“He sees the ice really well. He’s got good mental skills and he can capitalize given the chance and put the puck in the net,” said head coach Craig MacTavish. “We always talk about the play not dying with you as your measure of greatness.
“The play didn’t die with him very often yesterday and that will be key for him as he progresses through training camp.”
Hemsky, who had a hat trick in Sunday’s game, which admittedly featured a lot of open ice and the intensity of an all-star matchup, said he was impressed with Gagner: “He’s a young, talented guy, really smart guy. He can really move the puck.”
Gagner, the Oilers’ first overall draft pick this year was expected to return for another year of junior with London of the Ontario Hockey League, but MacTavish said he’ll be given every opportunity to shine.
Gagner said he’ll need time.
“It’s a lot faster (in the NHL). Guys are quicker and stronger and you just really have to adjust to the pace. I think I’m getting better and better every day,” he said. “The Super Series definitely helped me prepare for this.”
The Oilers, coming off the worst goal total in the NHL last season at 195, are looking to youngsters like Gagner, Rob Schremp, Robert Nilsson and Kyle Brodziak to step up.
MacTavish has made it clear that everyone will get a look-see and veterans seeking a few weeks’ grace to wind into shape may be doing it on someone else’s roster.
From their new uniforms to their dressing room to the team attitude about open competition, the Oilers say they are determined to move ahead and not look in the rear-view mirror to what all agree was one putrid road-kill of a 2006-07 campaign.
Last October, with newcomers like Joffrey Lupul and Petr Sykora complementing Stanley Cup finalist stars Raffi Torres, Fernando Pisani, Shawn Horcoff, and Ryan Smyth, the Oilers were chest-thumping about rolling four lines that could score.
It didn’t happen. Horcoff and Torres tanked while Pisani, suffering silently with an inflamed bowel disorder that now has him out of the lineup, did the same.
Jarret Stoll and Ethan Moreau got hurt. The Oilers won just two of their last 20 games and finished 25th overall. Lupul was a washout and is now in Philadelphia. Sykora is in Pittsburgh and former fan-favourite Smyth plays in Denver.
Veterans who know their jobs are on the line have responded. Torres, by his own admission, toned down his off-season party habits and joined a cadre of Oilers working out together in California in a regimen that included cross-training and even some martial arts.
Torres shone Sunday, quarterbacking a nifty tic-tac-toe scoring play on Roloson.
“Raffi is right on top of his game right now. It’s good to see,” said MacTavish.
The Oilers are proving everything old is new again. On Sunday they unveiled their new jerseys, which had already been leaked on the Internet days earlier, featuring a clean look with few lines, the same colour scheme and the familiar oil drop logo.
“They look sharp and they’re pretty sleek and light and they don’t retain too much water,” said Horcoff.
On Monday, they opened their new $3-million dressing room to the media. The new digs feature an enlarged, horseshoe-shaped layout, a 12-seat theatre to break down and study game video, an expanded gym and weight room and a player lounge with stainless steel fridge, leather couches, granite-topped tables and monster-screen TVs.
“We’re up to standard in terms of the NHL. The average dressing room is about 10,000 square feet,” said Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe.