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Much of the talk as these dog days of the NHL off-season drag on is that the next order of business for Edmonton Oilers’ GM Ken Holland is to find himself a third-line centre. I wonder, might Sam Gagner be a reasonable facsimile if Holland can’t find the pivot he’s looking for?

Until somebody not on the roster now comes along, assuming that Holland can make a move, I think Gagner might be that guy or, at the very least, get a long look along with Gaetan Haas and Jujhar Khaira for the job. At this point in his career, Gagner, who will turn 30 on Saturday, is a bottom-six forward. That much we do know. The question is where he fits.

Is Haas, 27, who signed out of Switzerland, is billed as a very good skater who can play a two-way game and tallied 15-23-38 in 50 games with Bern SC, the answer in the three-spot? I don’t know. What about Khaira? He can play on the wing or at centre, but he didn’t take the kind of step up some hoped he would last season, scoring 3-15-18 in 60 games after going 11-10-21 in 69 games the season before.

Are either one of them better candidates than Gagner, who returned for an encore when he was traded by Vancouver for @Ryan Spooner and produced 5-5-10 in 25 games? Gagner doesn’t get around as well as Haas or Khaira, which matters in today’s game, but he’s a more proven player. And, while he’s been decidedly mediocre on the dot with a career mark of 45.6 per cent, he’s coming off his best season in the circles – 51.6 in his 25 games last season.

WHERE’S THE FIT?

“You learn every day you have to prove yourself in this league,” said Gagner, who is back where he started his NHL career in 2007-08 as an 18-year-old. “It doesn’t matter if you feel like you’re a mainstay, you have to make sure you come prepared and come ready to earn your job again. That’s kind of my mindset but at the same time, I think when you can be comfortable and have some familiarity, it definitely helps.”

Gagner spent seven seasons with the Oilers before he was dealt to Tampa Bay for Teddy Purcell and moved on to Arizona by the Bolts. Gagner’s coach in Arizona that season, 2014-15, was Dave Tippett. Gagner tallied 15-26-41 and played 17:15 a night in 81 games. Different time and a different team – Gagner saw lots of power-play time in the desert, which isn’t in the cards here – but he’s no stranger to the new Oilers’ coach, and that helps.

“I’ve always been a guy who is more successful the more I have the puck but I think I made a lot of strides that year in terms of my defensive game, my play away from the puck and doing what I can to get the puck back,” Gagner told EdmontonOilers.com. “He’s done a really good job taking the rosters he’s had and maximizing the talent of the roster.

“I think we’re in a different situation in Edmonton than we were in Arizona. We have some high-end talent on our team. In terms of offensive success, I think he’s going to let the top guys do their thing offensively and also cut down on our goals against and help out the goaltenders that way. It’s going to help us go a long way. I’m excited to see how everything goes.”

THE WAY I SEE IT

Like I said, Gagner isn’t going to get the kind of ice time or minutes on the power play he enjoyed under Tippett in Arizona, although he’ll certainly be an option on the second PP unit no matter where he ends up in the line-up. It’s unlikely he’ll replicate the 41 points he produced with the Coyotes – he’s had at least 40 points seven times, including a career-high 50 points with Columbus in 2016-17.

That said, just short of turning 30, Gagner is hardly Father Time. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe he could manage 30 points if he’s given third-line minutes at centre and secondary power-play time. That’s not a big number, but it’s one that just four forwards with the Oilers – @Connor McDavid, @Leon Draisaitl, @Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and @Alex Chiasson — reached last season.

Maybe Holland gets something done to fill that 3C spot – he’s interested in UFA @Derick Brassard, but if his asking price is $4 million, it’s too rich for the Oilers – and the possibility of Gagner, Khaira or Haas getting the shot becomes a moot point. Until that happens, I wouldn’t dismiss Gagner as somebody who can provide some much-needed bottom-six scoring and not only be a viable 3C option, but a very good one.

THIRD ANNUAL OILERSNATION OPEN

After having such a blast over the past two years, we absolutely knew that we were going to organize another golf tourney for the summer and, after a few months of planning, we’re psyched to finally be able to launch our third annual golf tournament.

  • When – August 29th, 2019 (Thursday). Tee off at 2 p.m.
  • Where – Cougar Creek Golf Resort
  • How much – $1000/team
  • Teams – Groups of Four (4)
  • How – Book your team here

As always, a portion of all proceeds from your ticket purchase will be donated directly to a local charity. This time we’ve partnered up with the Gregor Foundation to make sure that our kids are at their most handsome.

Previously by Robin Brownlee


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