Gagner quickly adjusting to new Knightlife

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

Sam Gagner is figuring this OHL thing out pretty quick.

Even when NHL central scouting rolled into the John Labatt Centre yesterday to measure and weigh the London Knights for accuracy, the 17-year-old couldn't help but start searching for an edge.

"I was trying to stretch myself as high as I could so I would look taller," said the talented rookie forward, who came into training camp generously listed at five-foot-11 and 190 pounds.

"Pat Kane and I aren't the biggest guys, but we know how to take care of ourselves out there. There's an adjustment to the OHL -- it's partly physical and there's a lot of skill here -- but I think it's gone well so far.

"Right now, I can't wait for the season to start. I'm trying not to focus too much on expectations and just play my game."

Gagner knows the biggest question surrounding the Knights is how quickly the team's young talent makes up for the loss of veteran stars like Rob Schremp, David Bolland, Adam Dennis and Dylan Hunter.

"I like to think of myself as a guy who makes the other players on the ice better," Gagner said. "I feel like I'm ready for this. I'm not someone who thinks of how many points I should have, but I played in a pretty good league with Sioux City (in the United States Hockey League) and it helped prepare me."

It didn't hurt that old pal and former Toronto Marlies teammate John Tavares, who scored 45 goals as a 15-year-old with the Oshawa Generals last season, kept in contact with Gagner while he mulled over the OHL or U.S. college route.

"John stayed in touch with me throughout the whole process and he told me I would enjoy playing in the OHL -- that it was my kind of league," Gagner said. "It helped talking to him because he's been there. It's going to be interesting when we finally play each other (on Nov. 10 at the JLC) because we both hate to lose."

As kids in Toronto, Tavares would often trek over to Gagner's house to play endless games on the backyard rink.

"We had some wars out there," Gagner said. "My dad (Knights assistant coach and ex-NHLer Dave Gagner) was in the rink business so we had a good one to play on. It had the boards, lines, everything. It was top notch."

Though London's preseason ends with a home game on Saturday night against Mississauga, the general consensus is Gagner, Kane and Co. will be able to create multiple scoring chances in the regular campaign just like they did in the exhibitions.

Many feel the young talent of the Knights will benefit from a schedule loaded with home games early in the season but London head coach Dale Hunter wasn't as sure.

"It could be, that's just the way the schedule worked out this year, but you always want a lot of home games at the end of the year, too," he said.

"The biggest thing is being tough. I don't mean fighting -- how many fights were there in the playoffs last year -- but in learning how to take a hit and give a hit. It sometimes takes young guys a while but it's important."

Hunter was asked if he, like Sam Gagner, had to go through similar weighings and measurements when he was a young NHL prospect.

"I don't think they did that back then," he said with a laugh, "and it's a good thing because I'm only five-(foot)-nine."


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