SUN Hockey Pool

Play it again, Sam

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

The entire brain trust of the Detroit Red Wings was in the press box last night, including consultant Scotty Bowman, preparing for spending the trade deadline dealing here in Edmonton.

Part of the entourage included Steve Yzerman, who will likely be back real soon, along with Hockey Canada scouts, to pick at the carcass of the Edmonton Oilers to form Team Canada for the 100th anniversary of the IIHF and the first World Hockey Championships ever played in Canada.

Yzerman got an eyeful of Sam Gagner, the youngest player in the NHL, who had no idea he'd be in the building.

I don't know if Yzerman would consider an 18-year-old for the team, especially one who played for Canada back in August, winning MVP honours in the Canada-Russia eight-game series.

But you'd have to score that as one whale of an audition, as Gagner and fellow Oilers future stars Kyle Brodziak and Andrew Cogliano and others delivered the message that they're going to bust their butts all the way to the end of this season even if it is essentially over right now.

"That's as well as I've seen him skate all year, making plays in tight and going to the net," said coach Craig MacTavish of the first star of the Oilers 3-2 win over the still-in-contention Colorado Avalanche.

"For a young player to step in and play that well and with that kind of passion is pretty impressive," he added of moving Gagner back and forth between the first line with Ales Hemsky and Dustin Penner to the kid line with Cogliano and Robert Nilsson.

"Some guys are just capable of handling that kind of responsibility," said the coach, who admitted he didn't dream of giving him anywhere near this kind of responsibility.

"I didn't think he'd be ready for it. But he's playing like he's not afraid of the limelight, that's for sure."

Gagner brought the Oilers back from a 2-0 deficit when he scored his seventh goal of the season, stretching the 18-year-old's point streak to nine consecutive games, the high for an Oilers player this season and two short of the team rookie record established by Miroslav Satan in 1996.

He now has 12 points over that stretch.

It was the end, however, of his record eight-game assist run for an Oilers rookie --the longest in the NHL since Alexei Zhamnov with the Winnipeg Jets back in 1992-93.

"The only streak I was thinking about was snapping the losing streak," he said of the three-game skid on the road.

Gagner had 17 shifts for 16:18 of ice time last night.

"Bouncing back and forth between different lines has been pretty easy to adjust to because of the players I'm playing with," he said.

"It's fun playing with different guys on different shifts like this and adjusting.

"It's just a great opportunity for me," added the kid with the 28-year-old head on his shoulders. "Part of it is getting more ice time. But the biggest part of it is getting added responsibility and proving I can handle it."

The thing with Gagner which makes him such a study is how he's growing into the season the deeper the season goes. This is normally about the time talented young rookies hit the wall and end up spending significant time in the press box, like Ales Hemsky did at the end of his first two seasons here.

Gagner just shrugs.

"This is usually the way it works for me. I played so much hockey as a kid, it was at the end of the season that I was usually gaining steam."

As for playing at the end of the season at the World Championships, he said it's not something he wants to think about right now.

"If something like that happened, it would be a huge honour. To play in something like that, to play for my country again ...

"Right now I'm just thinking of doing everything I can do for the Edmonton Oilers to win games. If I look ahead, then I'm not focusing on the Oilers."

As much as the kid impresses you on the ice, he impresses you even more when you get to the dressing room.


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