His father Dave played with the Maple Leafs, but Sam Gagner appears headed to one of his dad's previous National Hockey League stops.
One of the most-watched players at the Gus Badali minor midget all-star invitational, Sam Gagner would be considered among the top three picks at the Ontario Hockey League draft. But the centre with the Toronto Marlboros will begin the next phase of his career with the junior United States Hockey League in Minnesota with an eye to attending university there.
Sam Gagner and the rest of the players in the four-team field will try and complete the tourney with games at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. tonight after a fire at a deck patio supply yard next to Westwood Arena forced evacuation of the building just after 6 p.m.
"The USHL is the best league outside of the Canadian Hockey League that will allow you to maintain college eligibility," said Dave Gagner, a Marlies coach. "He's not the biggest kid in the world and though I don't know how he'll turn out in three or four years, but my wife and I want him to go the school route. I lived in Minnesota six years and I really liked it."
Dave has made it known Sam will not report to an OHL team if drafted, but realizes someone could take a flyer on him as a late pick.
"I just hope no one takes him early, because for certain he won't play in the OHL next year," Gagner said. "But I'm sure someone will pick him somewhere anyway.
"He's much stronger than I was at this age. I relied on quickness and skating, he plays more of a complete game. He's just 15 years old, but most kids are more well-rounded than we were at this age."
Dave Gagner played 15 NHL seasons with seven different teams, including the Leafs and the Minnesota North Stars.
Badali's business partner, Pat Curcio, helped organize the tourney, with eight top midget scouts picking four teams from the best of the GTHL on March 15. John Tavares of the Marlies was the first pick, which touched off a frenzy about the 14-year-old boy wonder possibly getting chosen as an underage player in the OHL in May. The idea eventually was rejected.
The first night of play featured two one-goal games.
"I think this event could escalate their place in the OHL draft," Curcio said. "Something a scout sees this late in the year could stick in his mind and only benefit the player."
"This gives the scouts something different to look at, how these boys perform with players they've never met before," Badali said.