A trip to the press box

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:22 AM ET

ST. LOUIS -- The plan initially was to play Sam Gagner intermittently this season.

Ease the 18-year-old rookie into the NHL. Have him settle into the league like an old man into a hot tub.

Yet prior to sitting out last night's contest against the St. Louis Blues, Gagner had only been scratched by the Edmonton Oilers once this season.

"This will probably mean for sure we're in a shootout tonight," said Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish prior to the game.

Geoff Sanderson took Gagner's spot in the lineup last night playing on a line with Kyle Brodziak and Zack Stortini. Sanderson had drawn the short straw in the first two of the current four-game road trip.

"We're going to take (Gagner) out for a game and give him some individual stuff to work on in practice and then get him back in there," MacTavish said. "It was highly unlikely he was going to play every game. This is just part of the process of trying to work on some individual things that maybe have slipped in his game."

Gagner had started Monday's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on the Oilers first line with Shawn Horcoff and Dustin Penner. However, he was replaced partway through the contest by Robert Nilsson and demoted to the fourth line.

"I'm still young and chances are this was going to happen," Gagner said. "Obviously I'm disappointed. But I can't be too worried about it and just try and learn what I can from this game and hopefully be better for it when I get back into the lineup."

Gagner has three goals and 13 assists in 39 games for the Oilers this season. But he hasn't registered a point in his last seven games. Against the Blue Jackets, he was turning over the puck too easily for MacTavish's liking - one which eventually resulted in a short-handed goal.

"I think the biggest thing I've learned this year is you have to stay at an even keel and be consistent," Gagner said. "The biggest thing is staying positive when I'm down like this and keeping in touch with reality when I'm on top."

At the start of the season, Gagner made an impression with the Oilers, who had the option of sending him back to his junior team in London, Ont.

The decision was made to keep the first-round pick (6th overall) in Edmonton.

It's easy to forget he is the youngest player in the NHL.

"We always have it in the back of our minds to have realistic expectations of what he's capable of and what he can accomplish at this level on a night in and night out basis," MacTavish said.

"He hasn't played poorly, it's just a case of sometimes giving a guy a break and a little bit of perspective and sometimes that can really help his game."

The only other game Gagner has missed this year came early in the season against the Minnesota Wild. That had more to do with protecting the young commodity.

Gagner played in the next 36 games, averaging over 14 minutes a night. But it's been a lot tougher grind.


Videos

Photos