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Oilers Watch: Sam Gagner finally showing progress

Sam Gagner has been on a tear recently and the fourth-year center really deserves a lot of credit in persevering after an early dip in his career.

Heading into last night’s game against Anaheim, Gagner was second in Oilers scoring with 18 points, trailing only defenseman Ryan Whitney (who had the baffling stat line of no goals and 21 assists). The young pivot has done a lot of his good work recently, too. Gagner recorded seven points in his past five games prior to last night and not coincidentally, the Oilers won four of those contests.

Even with linemate Ales Hemsky ailing, Gagner has proven he can produce on a consistent basis, which is so big when it comes to a still-young player’s confidence. Don’t forget; despite being in his fourth NHL campaign, Gagner is still just 21 years old and there will be ups and downs. Gagner’s ice time has yo-yo’d throughout the season – sometimes he’ll play more than 20 minutes, in others he’ll log closer to 14. Faceoffs are another aspect of his game that can be both great or brutal. His winning clip of 43.9 percent is not good by NHL standards, but sometimes he’ll have nights when he wins more than six of 10 draws. Capturing those games (and faceoffs are just as much about confidence as they are about reflexes and athleticism) and replicating them will be one of Gagner’s challenges.

As a team, Edmonton ranks second-last in the NHL with a 44.8 percent faceoff win rate, with only Columbus faring worse. This goes a long way in explaining why the Oilers are also near the bottom of the standings, but continued growth from a player such as Gagner – who is second on the team in draws taken, behind Shawn Horcoff – will help.

Right now, the Oilers have a young talent scoring at the best pace of his career. Gagner is still good for at least one fight per season and his sophomore slump is behind him. With even younger players emerging around him, he’s in a good situation right now. The only thing he needs now is for his team to keep putting up some wins.

This article was originally published in Metro News. For more hockey commentary, check out Metro Sports.



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