Gagner expected back against Predators

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:41 AM ET

NASHVILLE — Sam Gagner expects to be in the lineup when the puck drops again.

The Edmonton Oilers forward is back practising with the team and should suit up Tuesday night here against the Predators.

Gagner was forced to miss the last three games before the Olympic break after sustaining a knee injury, but rest and relaxation has seemingly done him well.

“It’s feeling good; it’s good that there’s a couple of days before our first game so I get to test it a little more,” Gagner said Sunday.

“For the most part, it’s passed every test to this point and it’s feeling better. I want to be ready for our first game back and I feel I’m going to be.”

Gagner underwent a battery of tests on his knee in an effort to locate the source of the problem.

There wasn’t a particular incident that caused the injury — his knee has simply been bothering him for some time, and eventually the pain became too unbearable to play with.

“From what I’ve been told, there is nothing structurally wrong with it; there are bone bruises and different types of bruises in there,” he said.

With the Oilers’ season in turmoil, Gagner has been one of the few bright spots in the lineup.

Prior to the break, the third-year centre had become one of the team’s most consistent players.

Future

He represents the future of the club and is one of a small handful of players that need not worry about the upcoming trade deadline.

The former sixth overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft isn’t going anywhere after potting 14 goals and 21 assists in 56 games this season.

“He was going through a stretch where he was our best forward, not just because he was putting points up, but he was playing a more complete game thanearlier on,” said head coach Pat Quinn.

“As a centre, you have a bigger responsibility in terms of two-way hockey and a lot of the guys that come in with impressive credentials don’t do that.

“They are trained to believe, in junior especially, that you get your points and that will be good enough.

“But when you step into the game at this level, it’s not good enough.

“That’s what we expect out of our guys that are going to be here for a while and we think in the future, they’re going to be real good players.”

Active

With the Olympic roster freeze now lifted, the Oilers are expected to be active prior to the NHL trade deadline Wednesday at 1 p.m. MST.

It’s expected veterans such as Ethan Moreau, Steve Staios and Fernando Pisani could be on the move, which would leave leadership holes to be filled by younger players like Gagner.

“Our young guys are still watching and learning,” Quinn said.

“Now we are expecting them to make some steps and they have to start showing some of those leadership skills as well.

“Does Sam have some? I believe he does. He’s showing a better competition level now then at the start of the year. He’s showing us a competitive instinct that has been getting better.

“That’s why I believe the last month or so, he has been one of our better players.”

Expectations have always been high on Gagner, who was a star in junior before making the jump to the NHL.

“I feel like I’m ahead leaps and bounds from what I was in my first year,” he said.

“It’s just a matter of continuing to develop mentally. There are lulls in the season and things that go on, but what makes you a great player is how you respond to them.

“I’m still learning how to respond to different things, I’m still trying to get better in that regard.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca


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