Sam Gagner was and is too skilled for no team to take a shot on him this past off-season, and it wasn’t surprising that by August the 27-year-old pivot had found himself a job with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
But after a difficult season — inarguably the worst offensive year of his career — with the Philadelphia Flyers, it’s easy to forget just how skilled Gagner is with the puck and exactly the talent level he brings to Columbus. Thankfully, and for our viewing pleasure, Gagner wasted little time this pre-season doing his best to remind hockey fans everywhere the type of ability he can bring.
In the Blue Jackets’ pre-season tilt against the Bruins, goals from Columbus’ Sonny Milano and Daniel Zaar were matched by Boston’s Jimmy Hayes and Danton Heinen. With the clubs deadlocked at two, the exhibition game went to overtime and, when that solved nothing, a shootout.
It was in the breakaway competition that Gagner flashed one of his signature shootout dekes, but he did so with such speed and seemingly with such ease that one would think he was trying to prove that he’s still got a lot to give. Check out this fantastic goal:
The way Gagner fakes the backhand with the reverse toe-drag almost makes you feel bad for Bruins netminder Zane McIntyre, who played the unfortunate role of the goaltender stunned by the dazzling deke.
What might be even more promising from Gagner than the shootout goal, however, is the fact that he got such a big role during the pre-season game.
While it’s still exhibition and roughly half the forwards were players who won’t be suiting up in Columbus this coming season, Gagner has to be excited by the fact he skated 18:36 against the Bruins after averaging less than 14 minutes per game in Philadelphia in 2015-16. The only forwards who boasted a higher ice time were Brandon Saad, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Alex Wennberg, but no one saw as much time as Gagner on the power play.
Gagner has been contributing in Columbus when he’s been on the ice, too. Through two games, he had one goal and four points, picking up his third assist of the pre-season Monday against Boston.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.