Gagner effect is felt

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

OTTAWA -- Sam Gagner doesn't know it, but he's having a pretty big impact on the class of 2008.

Steve Stamkos and a handful of other top prospects in today's NHL entry draft say watching the likes of Gagner and Chicago rookie Patrick Kane this season gives them the confidence to believe they can step right into the big league, too.

"That's definitely motivation for me to see Kane and Gagner - two guys I played against regularly with the Sarnia-London rivalry, make the jump and be impact players right away," said Stamkos, who'll go first overall to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"I'm pretty much in the same position they were last year, so to see how well they've done in the NHL, seeing them accomplish their dream and know that I can hopefully follow in their footsteps ... it definitely makes me feel better about myself, makes me a little more confident coming in."

Guelph Storm defenceman Drew Doughty, slated to go second or third in the draft, pals around with Gagner in the summer and also draws inspiration and confidence from seeing what he did in Edmonton last season.

"I'm actually pretty good buddies with (Kane and Gagner)," he said. "Sam lives in London, so we hang out in the summer. I've played against him and thought I could compete with him. I was matched up against him when I was in Guelph. Seeing the impact they made in the NHL really gives me hope and drive to make it next year."

More and more young players are making the jump straight from junior to the show, a sign that kids are taking the game a lot more seriously than in the past.

"It's a little bit of new era in the NHL where a lot of young guys are making an impact right away," said Stamkos, who has had a personal trainer for the last six years. "With the new rule changes they put in a few years ago, it allows for that. It allows for the speed and skill and smarts to really come out in players."


Photos