SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers vets lead by example

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:00 AM ET

They’re only a few years removed from being the kids themselves.

And in reality, they still are.

But with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi now in the fold, Andrew Cogliano and Sam Gagner have been forced to grow up quickly.

“I don’t know if you can consider us veterans yet,” said Gagner. “Obviously you feel more comfortable the more years you’ve been in the league.

“But it’s still a year that everyone has to prove themselves again, the way last year ended. I think everyone is pretty excited for those challenges.”

Once touted as the future of the franchise themselves, Gagner and Cogliano have struggled to live up to expectations they set for themselves with strong rookie campaigns.

Heading into their fourth year, both are determined to finally move on to the next level.

A lot to prove

“The guys that were here last year weren’t happy with how the year ended,” Gagner said. “We have a lot to prove and we’re pretty excited about it.

“I just want to be part of a winning team. The way you do that is everyone individually has to get better. Obviously for myself, I have a lot of things to prove in that regard. I want to take that next level as a player and hopefully that can propel us to more wins.”

Last season, Gagner, 21, finished the year with 15 goals and 26 assists in 68 games. The 41 points matched his output from the previous season, but fell eight points short of his rookie totals.

In order to try and make up the difference, the native of London, Ont., is heading into the year leaner than he’s ever been.

“The big thing for me is that I feel better on the ice,” he said. “I feel great out there and I have to continue that. I have to put myself in the right frame of mind and go from there.

“I’ve never played a playoff game and neither have some of the other guys in there. It’s not fun sitting on the sidelines and watching other teams in the playoffs and lifting the Stanley Cup.

“The guys that have been here the last three or four years and haven’t experienced that, that’s our motivation and that’s our goal this year. We obviously want to be a playoff team and that’s going to be our focus.”

Cogliano, meanwhile, is still trying to match the 45 points he put up as a rookie.

Last season, the Toronto native struggled offensively, collecting 28 points in 82 games.

Off-season assessment

“Last year made a lot of guys look back and see what went wrong,” Cogliano said. “That’s what I did over the summer. Mentally, I think I’ve figured out a lot of things about my game and what I need to get better at.”

Also heading into his fourth year, Cogliano, 23, will be asked to provide more of a leadership role. In order to make room for the young up-and-coming veterans, the Oilers blew out some of their longest-serving members, such as Ethan Moreau and Steve Staios.

“I think it’s something that we all have to take on,” Cogliano said. “We have younger guys here now. I think the young kid days are over for me, I have to take on more of a leadership role both on and off the ice.

“I not only have to help the young guys, but I have to make sure I’m playing a game the coaching staff likes, make sure that I’m dependable. The younger guys are going to be looking at us older guys and seeing how we’re doing things.

“If we’re not leading by example, it’s going to be tough for our team to be very successful.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca


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