SUN Hockey Pool

Sam's still struggling

DEREK VAN DIEST, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:47 AM ET

Two seasons ago, Sam Gagner was the revelation of training camp, a first-round draft pick whose effort in training forced the Edmonton Oilers to keep him on the roster.

This year, he has been conspicuous only for his mundane play.

Even head coach Pat Quinn has been questioning Gagner's ability.

"From my understanding, he had a real hot spot a couple of years ago in his first year," Quinn said.

"He's in the start of his third year now, and I haven't seen that part in camp yet. Most people believe it's there and it's going to come. And part of our job is to bring all these guys to a higher level, including Sam."

Gagner, 20, was overshadowed by a number of players at training camp, most notably, Jordan Eberle whom the Oilers sent back to junior.

Gagner finished the pre-season with a goal and two assists in four games.

Yesterday he was skating on the fourth line in practice.

"I feel like I have a lot more in me," Gagner said. "It's one of those things, there are a lot of new systems to learn.

"I tend to be a thinker ... and I think I'm over-thinking things right now. I think it'll get a little simpler and I'm going to find my game.

"I feel good going into the season, I feel confident. Hopefully I can work my way out of this and get back to it."

Heading into the season, expectations are high on the former London Knights star and sixth overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

After a strong rookie season, Gagner struggled to skate away from the sophomore slump last year, although he seemed to come out of his funk towards the end of the year.

"Sam is a highly skilled player who maybe has been unable to perform to his abilities right now," said Oilers GM Steve Tambellini.

"I would trust that Sam's character as an athlete, when push comes to shove, there won't be any issues with him."

Gagner, much like a number of other players on the roster, is trying to wrap his head around the new defensive systems put in place by the coaching staff.

Throughout the preseason, the main focus was in the defensive zone, making sure everyone was familiar with their responsibilities.

"I think that's what this next few days are for," Gagner said. "We have some time off, just some practice days where we can really get the dialogue going.

"For me, I have to make sure I have the right habits, get some good practice time going and get ready for (Saturday's home-opener).

After finishing with 41 points last season following a 49-point rookie campaign, Gagner is looking for a bounce-back year. The Oilers will need it from him if they expect to snap a three-year playoff drought.

"I think as a team we could use a bounce-back year," Gagner said. "Everybody in here is hungry to win, especially just the way the last couple of years have gone.

"At the end of the day we just want to be in the playoffs. We all have the same mindset. We're looking forward to the season and we're looking forward to having some fun."

DEREK.VANDIEST@SUNMEDIA.CA


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