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Rookies Gagner, Cogliano just getting started with injury-plagued Oilers

EDMONTON - This is the time of year when the adrenalin has long worn off and NHL rookies tend to fade away, but don't tell that to Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano of the Edmonton Oilers - apparently, they're just getting started.

With the injury-riddled Oilers battling down the stretch on the edge of playoff contention in the Western Conference, Gagner and Cogliano have been playing their best hockey of the season.

Tied for fifth in NHL rookie scoring with 37 points each and looking better in March than they did in October, linemates Gagner and Cogliano aren't just along for the ride.

Just happy to be here? Not a chance.

"It's tough to keep your head on straight sometimes," admits Cogliano, a roommate of Gagner's. "You can't get too high or too low.

"It's the situation I'm in and I've worked hard for this. I've got to seize the moment."

Cogliano, 20, scored the overtime winner to beat Columbus 2-1 on Friday. He followed with an overtime encore in a 6-5 win over Chicago on Sunday.

The former University of Michigan speedster has 15 goals and 22 assists and leads the Oilers with four game-winning goals.

"It's kind of surreal scoring goals, especially overtime winners," Cogliano said. "I'm a little surprised, but as I keep playing I get more used to being in the league.

"It's cool. It's fun."

Gagner, 18, who is making the jump to the NHL after just one season with the OHL's London Knights, had two assists against the Blackhawks to give him 37 points (7-30) this season.

"Being here at a young age is pretty special," Gagner said. "At the same time, you're not doing yourself any favours if you think that way.

"I think both of us have thought for awhile now it's time to prove we can play at this level and we can be successful."

What makes the performances of Gagner and Cogliano impressive is they've been at their best since being thrown into the fray because of all the injuries the Oilers have endured.

With Shawn Horcoff, Raffi Torres and Ethan Moreau out for the season, the rookies have been cast to the forefront instead of being brought along slowly and protected in terms of ice time and matchups.

"It's a combination," said coach Craig MacTavish, who has turned Gagner and Cogliano loose with linemate Robert Nilsson. "Most important, great ability, opportunity and maybe necessity.

"To keep us winning and having some success, they've had to play well and they've done that."

In 16 games since Horcoff was lost with a shoulder injury, Gagner has three goals and 13 assists while Cogliano has responded with six goals and seven assists.

"You can tell their confidence is getting better as the year goes on," said goalie Mathieu Garon. "Sometimes, kids hit the wall, but it seems like these guys have the focus and the confidence.

"It's a amazing. If I look back at how I was when I was 18, I wasn't even close to being in the NHL. You look at a guy like Sam and he's not just here, he's here and he's performing."

Cogliano, selected 25th overall by the Oilers in the 2005 NHL entry draft, has long been known for his speed. Seen as a player in the mould of Todd Marchant, whose career-best is 20 goals, Cogliano has shown more of a knack around the net that many expected.

"It's pretty impressive for a guy to come in have those numbers," said MacTavish. "Fifteen goals for a 20-year-old with 13 games left. There may be 30-plus in his future."

Thirty goals?

"Hopefully, not taking away anything from him (Marchant), I wouldn't mind being maybe something more," Cogliano said. "Maybe more offensive. I think I'm a different player.

"We have some attributes we can compare, but, for myself, I think I'm a little more of an offensive guy."

Gagner, selected sixth overall by the Oilers last summer, doesn't blaze a trail like Cogliano. But he saves steps by using his head. He's not easily rattled in traffic and he shows remarkable on-ice vision for a rookie.

"We play to our strengths. We've both creative players in the past," Gagner said. "I don't think it should stop at this level.

"We're finding ways to adjust to our roles and doing whatever we can to help the team win. Right now, it seems to be working pretty well."


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