Two years ago it took the traditionally slow-starting Sam Gagner 19 games to reach four points, and last year, after piling up a quick 10 out of the gate, he managed just 12 points in the next nine weeks.
Mr. October he ain’t.
But with four assists in four games, the 21-year-old seems a step ahead of where he usually is at this time.
“I think he’s quicker,” said head coach Tom Renney. “I think he’s paid attention to proper training this past summer and he’s more assertive as a player. In his mind he’s free of being evaluated on every single shift. I think he’s confident because of it.”
Gagner did alter his of-season training, but says the early jump is more about his mental state.
“Just a different mind-set,” he said. “I came in this year way less worried about what the results were going to be and what people were going to think. And I know I put the work in this summer so I gained confidence from that.”
He knows he can get hot, but delivering on a more consistent basis is what makes somebody a legitimate, full-time top-six forward. Which is what he wants to be on a rebuilt Oilers team.
“I’ve had stretches in this league where I’ve put up numbers, which has always been in the back of my head,” he said. “I still feel I can get to another level, but there hasn’t really been that game where we’ve broken out and, because of that, there’s been change.”
Gagner seemed quite at home on a line with Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky (who wouldn’t?), but the recent line shuffle could have him playing with Penner and Jordan Eberle next game. Continuing to produce, no matter who he’s with, is a must.
“To me, (linemates) don’t matter,” he said. “We have so much skill on this team it’s going to help everybody out. When every line can score and makes plays, it helps everyone.”
Maintaining the point point-per-game pace would be nice, but it remains to be seen if it’s realistic.
“I did it my first couple of years, set goals for myself, and you worry so much about reaching them that you let it cloud what’s really important,” he said. “The biggest change for me is worrying about the process, preparing well, recovering well and making sure my practice habits are good. From there results will come.”
PROMOTION TIME: Magnus Paajarvi, who hasn’t dazzled in the regular season like he did in the pre-season, skated with Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky in practice Tuesday. Whether it stays that way for Thursday’s game remains to be seen, but if it does, watching Hemsky and Paajarvi together could be interesting.
“I want to focus on myself, be as good as I can,” said Paajarvi. “If I do that it’s going to work out just fine. I felt good playing wth Cogliano and Brule, too. They’re all great guys. But I’ve never played with Horc and Hemmer so I think that’s going to be a good thing. We’ll see what happens.”