Gagner sticks with Oilers

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 6:48 AM ET

Sam Gagner gives a simple explanation to his last few months.

"It's been unbelievable," Gagner said. "I haven't even had a chance to stop and think about what it's been like."

The months ahead are going to get more interesting for the London Knights forward. The 18-year-old signed a three-year entry-level contract with the National Hockey League's Edmonton Oilers yesterday, ensuring the Knights won't see him for a little while yet, if ever.

The Oilers had until 3 p.m. yesterday to sign Gagner or send him back to London. With the contract, Gagner can play up to nine games with the Oilers before he has to be sent back or have a full year of the contract kick in. The Oilers can keep him up to 41 games before a full year of the contract expires for free-agency purposes.

But all that's a long way off for the sixth overall pick in the NHL draft. Right now, he's enjoying the idea of having made the NHL club.

"It's a great feeling, a huge weight off my shoulders knowing I will start here," Gagner said from Edmonton. "It's the first step to a dream come true. I still have a long way to go. I still have to prove myself every day, but this just feels great."

Gagner went right to the Oilers camp after being named the most valuable player in the eight-game Canada-Russia junior Super Series. His age and the fact he had only one year of major junior under his belt made him a long shot to make the Oilers.

But from the beginning of camp, he turned heads and, along with other youngsters such as Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson, became fan favourites.

Gagner said he didn't know what to expect going into camp.

"I was glad to be here and just wanted to run with that. I was always hopeful," he said. "This is where I wanted to be. I think I can speak for anybody who is in this position. I'm just excited about the opportunity to improve myself. I'm not looking at nine games. I just want to take it day by day and continue to learn. Obviously at the NHL level, you have to prove yourself every day."

"I'm really anxious to see Sam," MacTavish said. "I think he's a guy who will even benefit from the heavier competition because the players are in more predictable spots and he's a guy who can really manage the game intellectually."

Gagner has become popular not only with the fans, but also with his teammates. Reports say a cheer went up in the dressing room after the morning skate when news spread the Oilers had worked out a contract for Gagner.

Gagner played with just about everyone on the Oilers during the preseason and has no idea who he'll play with or how much he'll play.

"They haven't told me anything," Gagner said. "I just have to prepare for every game, every practice, continue to stay focused. I don't want to think that just because training camp is done to let down and say, 'I'm here now.' I want to continue to work hard and earn a spot on the team. No matter what happens, I'm just looking forward to the opportunity and I'm going to have a lot of fun with it."

It's a good news/bad news situation for the Knights. Management is excited about Gagner getting a contract, but they could use the talented forward back here. The Knights, 0-3, are missing two other underagers -- Pat Kane is with the Chicago Blackhawks and goaltender Steve Mason is still with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

This isn't an unusual situation for the Knights. In previous years, they've had players such as Rob Schremp and Corey Perry signed on deadline. They were eventually returned to their junior team.

"As an organization, we're pumped for Sam," assistant general manager Jim McKellar said. "We obviously miss him here, but it's always exciting to have someone on your team sign with the NHL."

Gagner has been under a microscope during training camp.

"It's the NHL and you expect that. It's going to continue. I was sort of used to it in London only on a smaller scale. You just have to find a way to continue to produce. This is just a chance I have to continue trying out."


Videos

Photos