EDMONTON - Sam Gagner would be excused if he decided to smash something right about now.
Like maybe a hockey stick over the cruel hand of fate.
After missing the last month of last season with an injury, he busted his tail all summer to come back faster and leaner and better than ever — only to get injured again before he can even get a skate blade wet in the regular season.
How long he’s out remains to be seen — the estimates range from two to four weeks — but no matter how long the high ankle sprain keeps him away, it’s terrible timing.
Unless you’re centre Anton Lander, and your audition with the Oilers just got a little longer.
“I think for now it’s week to week,” said Gagner, who slid into the end boards last Saturday against Calgary. “When I was in my skate there’s adrenaline and you don’t really feel it too much, but when I took off my skate I thought it was pretty bad.
“Over the last couple of days it really settled down and it’s feeling really good. I’m just going to take it from there and see how it goes in the next couple of weeks.
“It could be more than that, it could be less, I don’t know. They just said they want a week or two to let it heal and then progress from there.”
The fact that this season is starting the way last season ended is difficult to swallow, but he doesn’t have a choice. All he can do is wait till he’s better and be glad it wasn’t worse.
“I can’t get down about it,” said the 22-year-old, who had to shut it down last March after cutting tendons on a skate blade while reaching for a water bottle on the bench. “The year’s not over. I haven’t even missed a game yet so I don’t think I can get too frustrated just yet.
“I have to focus on taking the necessary steps to get better and just kind of hope for the best in terms of recovery. My hope is that I don’t miss a game. If that’s the case, great. If it’s not, then that’s what it takes to get better and we’ve got a long season on front of us.”
High ankle sprains rarely go away quickly. If that’s the case here, it means there will probably be a hole at centre on Oct. 9, which is where Lander comes in.
“Obviously nobody’s going anywhere,” head coach Tom Renney said of cutting centres anytime soon. “I don’t know when Sam can play next.”
But he does think that Lander is a player.
“He’s demonstrated that he can step in and help right now. We have to project if he can do that on a regular season basis. That said, we’ve bought some time here.”
In the meantime, Gagner has to limp the fine line between hurrying back, and not coming back too soon.
“Especially with high ankle sprains, you walk around and feel fine and when you start skating is when it starts to hurt. I need to resist the temptation of wanting to get back for that first game. I’m going to let pain be my guide and if I can handle it and I know it’s not going to be a lingering thing, then I can play through it.
“But it’s a long season, for it to be nagging me for 80 games would not be fun. I kind of went through it my second year, I had a bad right ankle, and that’s the last thing you want.”