CALGARY - After a chicken-egg start to the season for Ben Eager (was his lack of impact due to his lack of ice time or was his lack of ice time due to his lack of impact), the big free agent seems to have scrambled his way back into Tom Renney’s consciousness.
A goal and a strong night on the fourth line against Carolina earned him a promotion to the third line, where he scored another one and turned in an even stronger effort against the Colorado Avalanche.
“I’m starting to feel better, getting better opportunities, that’s what everyone wants,” said Eager, who refuses to be pigeonholed into the role of fourth-line tough guy.
“I signed here to play. I’m confident in my ability to play in this league. I didn’t sign here to play a few minutes and be a body guard, because I know I know I can play the game. I’m not saying (bodyguard) isn’t part of my game, it still is, but when you’re involved things are a lot easier.
“I’ve been doing the same thing for the last few years in the league, been on some good teams, I’ve learned a lot going deep in the playoffs the last few years. I’m confident in my ability to play a regular shift.”
He admits, though, that after a concussion in training camp and a back injury a few weeks into the season, he was a long way from his best, and it showed.
“It’s tough for the coach to move you up when you’re not playing, you have to be in the lineup,” he said. “It’s tough to start the season off with a concussion, for sure, and then my back got hurt. It was a rough start, but it’s a long season. I’m not too worried about it, I’m just looking forward to moving ahead.”
He developed a nice chemistry with Ryan Jones, another big solid player who goes to the net, and veteran centre Eric Belanger.
“It’s pretty easy to play with Belly, he’s been in the league a long time he knows the game and reads it really well, puts the pucks in the right spots,” said Eager. “Jonesy is the same way. He works hard and keeps it simple and I just use my speed to get in on the forecheck and create some havoc.”
GAGNER ON THE REBOUND
It’s never easy bouncing around on a sore ankle, ask Sam Gagner.
He’s been all over the Oilers map since returning from a high ankle sprain in training camp. He’s played out of position with a revolving door of linemates, going 18 games without a goal.
But he scored two Friday night for three in three games. He looked the best he has all season skating with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle against Colorado.
“Ankles never really heal fully, it seems, until you’ve played about 10 games,” said Gagner, who has 10 points in his last nine starts. “I’m starting to feel a lot better, my legs are starting to feel better. And because of injuries I’ve been given more opportunity, which helps, and I want to continue to ride with every chance I get.”
The 22-year-old wanted to establish himself as one of Edmonton’s key guys this season, so to not be playing, and then playing a step slow when he did return, was hard.
“It definitely is frustrating, but my first few years in the league helped me deal with that,” he said. “I’ve had some tough times where I’ve gone 10 or 15 games without a goal or a point. I remember my second year when I went through it early in the year I didn’t handle it well at all. I learned a lot from that.
“This year I just tried to stay positive, continue to press forward and it’s helped - I’ve gotten a lot of opportunity here recently and I’m just trying to run with it.”
Playing with RNH and Eberle, when you yourself are on top of your game, is sweet.
“I’m comfortable with skilled players, I’ve always been comfortable in that kind of role,” said Gagner, adding you won’t find much more skill than those two posses. “I’m so impressed with what those guys have been able to do, first and second year in the league, to be able to produce at a consistent clip like they have, it’s pretty special.
OLDER THE BETTER
With six points in his first two games since returning to the Flames lineup Brendan Morrison is getting all kinds of compliments for how well he’s playing at 36, he just wishes they’d leave out the 36 part and just be impressed with how he’s playing.
“A lot of times I think too much emphasis is put on a guy’s age,” he said. “Sure, I’m older. I might not be as quick as I was eight or night years ago, maybe even three years ago, but I think I make up for it with experience.”