Trio grande for Oilers

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:45 AM ET

COLUMBUS -- The 35 goals and 83 assists Sam Gagner piled up for the London Knights was enough to make the Edmonton Oilers salivate.

The way Gagner showed another side to his game while winning gold with Canada's World Juniors squad was just icing on the cake for the player Edmonton nabbed sixth overall at the draft yesterday.

"He gave up his normal position to be on the team and worked at it," said Oilers chief scout Kevin Prendergast.

"His overall game improved. That was a team that had to play a lot of defence compared to his powerhouse team (in London) and he did what he had to do. That was a no-brainer for us."

The Oilers didn't come up with the blockbuster deal to add roster players, but GM Kevin Lowe added three potentially big pieces to the future by pocketing a trio of players in the first round of the draft yesterday in Columbus.

On top of grabbing Gagner, Edmonton reeled in big defenceman Alex Plante of the Calgary Hitmen 15th overall and using the 21st selection to take skilled centre Riley Nash of Salmon Arm of the BCHL.

"A sprinkling of everything," Lowe said.

Certainly the big gun is Gagner, son of former NHLer Dave Gagner, who was one of only two players on Canada's gold-medal winning squad who hadn't been yet drafted.

Sam Gagner may have spent a year living in Calgary, but happily bleeds Oilers colours now.

"Canadian city, I couldn't be more thrilled," said the 5-ft. 11-in., 191-lb. centre. "I'm happy to be picked. I realize this is just the beginning and there's still a long way to go and there's a lot of work to be done.

"I'm excited to be part of the Edmonton Oilers franchise and hopefully part of the success in the future."

His father piled up 719 points in nearly 1,000 NHL games, so naturally there will be the comparisons. First off, though, Junior is more of a playmaker.

"He always said the best players are the ones that make everybody around them better and you'll have a job in the NHL for a long time if everybody loves playing with you," Gagner said. "I like to use my vision and creativity to use my wingers."

In Plante, the Oilers have a bruising defenceman - which is a far cry from the type of player his father was as a junior star. Cam Plante was a 140-point defenceman for the Brandon Wheat Kings in the early 1980s.

"Naturally, he's got the offensive skills," said Plante, ranked 72nd by Central Scouting. "He's trying to teach me right now, and I'm gonna take in all the little things he can give me and combine our games together and hopefully it goes to my advantage."

Curiously, he's the third person in his household drafted. Cam was chosen by Toronto back in 1983 while his older brother, Tyler, is a netminder drafted by Florida a couple of years ago.

"(My dad) never got to go and my brother was in the lockout year, so they both came for the experience and the ride," he said.

The Oilers moved up, dealing their 30th and 36th selections, to grab Nash, a rangy centre who was the BCHL's rookie of the year after collecting 83 points in 55 games. He's off to Cornell university, but expects to be on the professional tracks before long.

"I think I'll take it year by year," Nash said. "I probably won't stay the four years, but if I have to, I will."

Although Nash was ranked 64th among North American skaters by Central Scouting, Prendergast wanted to move up to get their man.

"He shows up to play every night and he plays all over the ice. He's not intimidated," he said of Nash.

"He's at his pace as far as turning pro, but here's a kid that, in our estimation is gonna play, for sure. He's got all the tools to be a solid NHL player."

Lowe didn't manage to nab any current NHLers, despite his efforts.

"I want to say there's a couple deals pending," he said.

"It's a little frustrating because in both cases, they're tied to teams doing other things, and maybe that has to do with the cap world.

"But I remain optimistic it'll happen."


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