Gagner continues to mature

Centre Sam Gagner speaks with the media at a news conference during Edmonton Oilers training camp...

Centre Sam Gagner speaks with the media at a news conference during Edmonton Oilers training camp at Rexall Place on Friday. (Ian Kucerak/QMI Agency)

Robert Tychkowski, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

When you’re a baby-faced 20 and they’re still asking for your ID at the door, it’s an embarrassing nuisance that provides endless fodder for buddies who were shaving in Grade 8.

 

Then, when you’re a young-looking 40 and the same guys who laughed at you back then are being asked if they’d like the seniors discount at Denny’s, you realize it was all worth the hassle.

That might be Sam Gagner some day, waking up in 2015 as a 26-year-old with eight NHL seasons on his resume. Youth and experience all rolled into one. The best of both worlds.

Right now he’s still getting carded, definitely not a player who convinces you at first glance that he’s the man.

Or even necessarily the second-line man.

“I don’t think I’m anywhere close to my prime yet,” said Gagner, the first to admit he hasn’t reached the potential that made him the sixth overall pick in 2007. “I’m still young and still growing as a player and I don’t think I’ve shown in the past few years what I’m capable of. I’m excited to kind of push toward that next level.

“I’m not sure when I’m going to get to that next level, I know I’ve put in the work and I feel confident that I can hit it soon. For me it’s just a matter of finding consistency. I’ve had stretches where I’ve played at a really high level and I’ve had stretches where I haven’t. I think I have to find that consistency and go from there, try to better myself as a pro.”

Before judging Gagner’s development, one must first decide which scale to use. Is it ‘This is his fifth year in the league, he should be where he’s going to be by now.’ Or, ‘He’s only 22, barely older than Jordan Eberle, give it time?’

“I have to look back sometimes and say, I am 22, I still have a lot of room left to grow, and I have to gain confidence from that,” said Gagner, who’s glad his pro career took the path it did. “It’s definitely beneficial for me to have played this amount of time. As a pro I’ve grown so much. I look back to when I was 18, just my eating habits, the way I took care of myself, everything that goes into being a pro, I’m leaps and bounds ahead of where I was. I’m glad I’ve put in the time and played those years.

“I’m excited for the challenge of this year, to see what it brings.”

So is everyone else. With one, possibly two (if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins makes it) new centres added to a mix that already includes Shawn Horcoff and Gilbert Brule, the need to carve out a long-term role, the sooner the better, is very important.

And that role, he says, needs to be something more than a 40-point guy.

“One hundred per cent, yeah,” said Gagner, who posted 49, 41, 41 and 42 points in his first four seasons. “I was a high draft and when I played junior I put up big numbers and I still believe I can do it at this level.

“My goal is obviously more than 40 points but beyond that I don’t want to look into numbers too much because there are a lot of different circumstances that go into putting up numbers in this league. If I can find that consistency where I’m relied upon to play big minutes every night, and do it successfully, then that’s where I want to be.”

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca

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