Gagner making his mark

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

At times it's easy to forget Sam Gagner is only 18 years old.

The NHL's youngest player has taken on major responsibilities with the Oilers in recent weeks.

"The thing that has surprised me in his development is just how strong he is on the puck and how effective he is in confined areas," said head coach Craig MacTavish.

"That's really the measure of terrific players, the ability to make plays in limited space. He's been able to do that.

"I think the timing is right for him to be able to assert himself in Shawn Horcoff's absence. He's got 50-some games under his belt now and guys like that recognize opportunity. Good players don't need a lot of it to grab it."

Gagner has four points in his last two games and was in on all but one of the team's five power-play goals in victories over the Chicago Blackhawks and Calgary Flames.

In 53 games the flashy rookie has sniped five goals to go along with 20 assists.

"Any time you lose a guy like Shawn you lose a lot," Gagner said. "He's been such a big part of our team this year, from special teams play to blocking shots and scoring, he does everything well. It's a huge hole to fill and I think everyone is trying to step up as much as possible.

"It's an opportunity for myself. I'm just going to try and do whatever I can to help the team win. It's been clicking the last few games and hopefully I can keep clicking with Hemmer (Ales Hemsky) and Pens (Dustin Penner) and keep the success going on the power play."

As the son of former NHL Dave Gagner, Sam's goal was always to follow in his father's footsteps. However, even though he was a first-round pick (sixth overall) his development has been surprisingly swift.

"I know when I was 18, I was still playing junior in Cranbrook," said Oilers centre Jarret Stoll. "For him to be here, be contributing like he is and being a big part of our team like he is, it's incredible to see how's he's maturing and how's he becoming a better player.

"It's tough when you're so young, you just want to come in and soak everything up and learn as much as you can and he's definitely learning pretty quick."


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