Kane, Gagner play like they won't be back

RYAN PYETTE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

In Chicago, Blackhawks head coach Denis Savard called Pat Kane "awesome."

In Edmonton, Sam Gagner, still 18, is getting serious consideration as the Oilers' centre on the team's No. 1 scoring line.

This does not sound like the talk of NHL teams that plan on sending their top prospects back to the London Knights any time soon.

After London scored just twice and struggled on the power play in its season-opening loss to Sarnia on Friday, there is increased urgency to have one or both of Kane and Gagner return to spark the offence.

But London GM Mark Hunter went through this waiting game five years ago with Rick Nash in Columbus and knows there's always a chance the young stars may never be back.

"The only one I ever talked to was (Columbus director of player personnel) Donny Boyd (about how goalie Steve Mason was making out)," Hunter said.

"It's not my business to call teams and find out what's going on. They have to do what's in the best interests of the Blackhawks and the Oilers.

"We're not here to call and try to change their minds. We want to see the kids do well and if they make it, so be it."

Reports say Kane didn't do much in his first pre-season game, but he had a goal and assist, which he called a confidence-builder, Friday in a 5-4 loss to Minnesota.

"He was awesome," Savard told the Chicago Sun-Times. "Even before the third period, he was creating some stuff. I'm sure he's happy, and we're happy."

For Savard to have to cut Kane will feel like booting his own son out of the house. It won't be easy for a coach to get rid of a gifted offensive player.

Like everyone else in Edmonton, forward Shawn Horcoff was surprised to see the instant success enjoyed by Gagner at Oilers camp. When Gagner played in the pre-season with Horcoff's linemates, he shone and turned the offence-hungry team's plans upside down.

"When I talked to (head coach Craig MacTavish) in the summer he said that I'd be playing with Hemmer (Ales) Hemsky and (Dustin) Penner, and then when I came to camp it was changed right off the bat," Horcoff told the Edmonton Sun. "I haven't talked to him about it (since), I don't know what his thinking is, but the kid (Gagner) played well, he's a good kid, he's got lots of skill and he's obviously the future of the franchise."

Mason is one of four goalies still in Columbus camp and stopped 20 shots in a 4-1 pre-season win over Buffalo. He is the odds-on favourite to return for more junior seasoning before the NHL season starts in two weeks.

"He's in that group of young players who have come in here and made a good account of themselves," Jackets head coach Ken Hitchcock told the Columbus Dispatch. "Why not give a guy like that a chance?"

Mark and head coach Dale Hunter feel like they have given plenty of Knights the chance to assume more offensive responsibility. In its first game, London looked to favour a dump-and-chase approach rather than last year's flash-and-dash puck-carrying exhibited by Kane, Gagner and Sergei Kostitsyn, who was just sent to Hamilton of the American Hockey League by the Montreal Canadiens.

"(Kevin) Montgomery and (Scott) Aarssen are '88s (1988 birth dates) so they should be capable of leading the rush," London head coach Mark Hunter said. "It's not just lugging the puck up the ice. It's making good decisions on when and where to pass the puck. As a team, I thought we didn't make some good decisions offensively or defensively against Sarnia.

"With Sam and Pat gone, for a lot of other guys, here's their chance. There's power play time available. It's an opportunity. That's the way it works. Take advantage of it."

London's players all know they would have a better team with Kane, Gagner and Mason in the lineup. But they can't spend their time waiting for it or they'll be stuck in the same four-game winless rut that popped up to start the 2005-06 season before the return of Rob Schremp, Dylan Hunter and Adam Dennis.

"We're taking the approach here that those guys are never coming back," London assistant coach Pat Curcio said. "It's the only way you can do it. They're not here and we still have to work hard and get the job done."


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