SUN Hockey Pool

High expectations for Brule, Gagner

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:36 AM ET

Gilbert Brule has been there and done that.

He was a highly touted, high draft pick who joined a bad team amid glorious fanfare and towering expectations.

Same goes for Sam Gagner.

So take it from them when they tell you that Year One can be some hard, hard miles.

“I was ready to play in the NHL skill-wise, but physically I was not ready,” said Brule, who went sixth overall to Columbus in 2005. “That’s the one thing (Edmonton’s rookies) are going to have to deal with — the physical aspect of the game. It’s a long season and there are a lot of big boys out there.”

It was especially long for Brule, who managed just 19 points in his rookie season and nine in his second, which included 16 games in the minors.

Losing and struggling were elements of the game he’d never experienced before.

“It’s such a mental change,” said the 23-year-old, who came to Edmonton for Raffi Torres when the Blue Jackets gave up on him. “I’m the perfect example. In junior I’m on the first line, first power play, going to the Memorial Cup, lighting it up. The next year I’m not even in the playoffs and I’m playing five minutes a night.

“It’s such a big change that it can really take a toll on you. You can’t take it personally. Some young players do, and that brings your confidence down and it gets even worse.”

Gagner, who went sixth overall to the Oilers in 2007, had a better NHL indoctrination, 49 points in his first year. But there were tough patches then, and in the two seasons since. Prolonged scoring droughts. Uncomfortable questions. Stuff that Gagner, like Brule, had only seen happen to other guys.

“I think it’s just important to keep a level head,” he said. “It’s an exciting time, but you don’t really know what to expect, coming out of junior. You don’t know what it’s going to be like.

“And through an 82-game season, not every game is going to go as smoothly as you want, but you have to make sure you don’t get too up or too down. When things are not going well you can’t be too hard on yourself. You have to make sure you remain confident and you’re doing the right things. I think that’s something you learn as you go along.”

They all do. At some point this season, one or all of Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi or Jordan Eberle might go two weeks without a point, maybe three. And he’ll start to worry. Or, more likely, fans and media in Edmonton will worry for him.

“That’s going to happen,” said Brule. “That’s just how people critique hockey sometimes. When I was a young guy, the best thing for me was when the older guys were positive and would talk me through those times. That’s what you need.”

Because playing in the NHL is hard. No matter how good you are. If it was easy, we’d all do it.

“When you’re playing with these guys for the first time, you’ve grown up watching them on TV, you kind of idolize them to a certain degree,” said Gagner. “The biggest thing is trying to balance that respect factor. You obviously have to respect the guys and what they’ve done, but at the same time you can’t let it affect your play. You have to be able to go out there and do what you do best.”


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