SUN Hockey Pool

Gagner on run to top Oilers scoring

Edmonton Oilers' Sam Gagner celebrates his goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets.  (REUTERS/Dan...

Edmonton Oilers' Sam Gagner celebrates his goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets. (REUTERS/Dan Riedlhuber)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:32 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA Sam Gagner would like think he plays his best hockey when it counts.

Unfortunately, in four seasons with the Edmonton Oilers hes never had a chance to prove it.

He picks up speed down the stretch, when the games get tighter and tougher and more important, only to shut it down and pack up for the summer when the playoffs start.

Down the stretch has always been my best hockey, said Gagner, who has a three-game point streak (2g, 3a) on the go and nine points in Edmontons 7-3 run of late.

We havent been in the playoff race the last couple of years, but if we were in a playoff race right now and Im playing my best hockey I think thats a good thing going forward. I like that Im able to turn it on in the last part of the season.

I think I just like the mentality of it. The teams were playing against often have a lot to play for, the intensity heightens. Ive always kind of liked that brand of hockey where theres something on the line. Its exciting hockey.

Its contrary to what one might expect from a smaller centre, but Gagner seems at his best when everything is dialled up a little. And it bothers him greatly that he hasnt been able to play past the 82nd game.

It definitely bugs me. Thats why you play hockey; you want to be a playoff player. You want to win at the end of the day. To be here for four years and not have made the playoffs is definitely something that you always think about.

But we feel like were turning the corner. We want it to be the last year that its like this. Its important for us to grow as a group and turn that corner.

Gagners last couple of weeks have him in a three-way tie for the team lead in scoring with 42 points. But with Ales Hemsky and Taylor Hall in the infirmary and Dustin Penner in Los Angeles, he compares it to winning the batting title while Ted Williams was serving in Korea.

If it did end up happening there might an asterisk beside it because of all the injuries and the trade, so its not something Im focusing on, said Gagner, who adding the depleted lineup is less about stats and more about taking advantage of an open door.

Its a huge opportunity for guys to show what theyre capable of, not just to people on the outside, but to their teammates as well. Its an exciting opportunity for all of us.

So rather than the points, hes focusing instead on the mechanics that have led to the surge.

What I like about Sam is hes one of those guys whos rounding out his whole game, said head coach Tom Renney. I think hes a great competitor and hes got character in him. I think he likes the challenge and the battle of facing teams that are battling for a playoff spot.

And hes understanding better and better what both ends of the rink look like.

While some people are expecting bigger numbers from Gagner, they also forget sometimes that at 21 years and 16 months, hes only 20 months older than Magnus Paajarvi and nine months older than Eberle. Still years away from his prime.

I still feel I have a lot of room to improve. I feel Ive taken major steps in my four years here. It might not always show statistics-wise, but I feel Im a way better player and I still have a lot to bring.

That brings me confidence, that Im still young and I still have a lot to learn.

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/TYCHKOWSKI


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