Gagner hopes Tavares No. 1 pick

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

When Sam Gagner returned to his London bedroom after his second NHL season, there was little trace of a Knights player occupying it over the past few months.

The Edmonton Oilers forward expected nothing less out of old pal John Tavares.

"He's a pretty neat guy," Gagner said this week of his former Toronto Marlies midget teammate.

Tavares is tidy -- but will he be the first pick overall in the NHL draft next month in Montreal? Gagner, who went sixth two years ago, hopes he will but wouldn't be surprised by anything.

"A lot could happen," the 19-year-old said. "It's a lot different than what I went through. He's been the top draft prospect since he was 14."

Gagner isn't sure if he'll be on site at the Bell Centre on selection day but he loved that Knights GM Mark Hunter acquired Tavares from Oshawa at the OHL trade deadline.

"I think it was a great move," he said, "but Windsor was a special team this year. I know the Knights won't want to hear it from me but a lot of congratulations go out to the Spitfires for what they accomplished at the Memorial Cup."

Gagner and the Oilers didn't get much in the way of backslaps and handshakes for their performance this season. Instead, their head coach -- London native Craig MacTavish -- was fired and replaced this week by former Toronto Maple Leafs and Canadian Olympic bench boss Pat Quinn.

"I haven't played for him before but I know some guys (like Tavares at this year's world juniors) who have and I've heard a lot of positive things," Gagner said.

"I know he's won everywhere and the only thing missing is the Stanley Cup and I hope we can help him with that in Edmonton."

There were high hopes in the City of Champions this season and that was shared by the players. Failing to make the playoffs again was devastating.

"I still talk with Pat Kane from time to time and at the start of the season, us and Chicago were talked about as the two up-and-coming teams who could break out this year," Gagner said, "so for us not to make the playoffs and to see the Blackhawks still playing (until Wednesday night after the Detroit Red Wings knocked them out of the Western Conference final), it's hard to take."

Personally, Gagner scored three more goals (16) than he did in his rookie season but didn't roar out to an impressive start.

"When things don't go well early, you start to panic a little bit and try to do too much," he said. "When you're trying too hard, it won't work. It's hard to put a finger on just one thing that went wrong for us. We got good goaltending. We just didn't find a way to score the big goal often enough."

Heading into his third year, it's a challenge Gagner takes personally.

He will again work out this summer at his dad Dave's gym Power Play Sports in the Western Fair Sports Centre.

He will take part in the Euro Can Cup tournament (www.eurocancup.com) Aug. 25-31 at the John Labatt Centre. As part of the Knights alumni club, he'll face off against EV Zug from Switzerland, EHC Munich of Germany and Austria's Linz Black Wings.

"I went on the trip last year (to Europe with the Knights alum) and it was a great experience.But now that it's in London . . . It's a good way to go into training camp."It's a chance to play some games. With not making the playoffs and no world championships, I've already been a month off and you start to get that feeling already that you want to get back at it and play."


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