Edmonton - Nov. 13, 2011 - To say the way the Edmonton Oilers have decided to use Sam Gagner since his return from a high ankle sprain, as curious, would be putting it nicely. No one was surprised that the club decided to bring the 22 year old along slowly upon his return to lineup. They were playing well and Gagner would need time to get his legs under him after missing a large chunk of camp. So playing him on the wing instead of his customary position of centre, did not seem like a big deal. Fast forward ten games and we still find the fifth year Oiler playing on the wing and on a line that has accomplished absolutely nothing, to this point in the season.
He has all of two assists on the season, one at even strength and one on the power play, and there seems to be no end in sight, for his struggles. Currently, this club can not score goals and in Gagner, they have player that has shown the ability to put up points at this level. Granted, he has not progressed to the level that many would have hoped but he still had managed to put up 173 points in his first four seasons. So why exactly has he been left on a line that has shown zero chemistry and playing out of position? I find it baffling and it does beg the question, "What are the long term plans for Sam Gagner in Edmonton?"
Gagner was slotted to start the season as the teams first line centre but because Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Shawn Horcoff have had good starts to their campaigns, the former sixth overall selection seems to have suddenly been deemed unnecessary. How this coaching staff believes that a centre depth chart of Nugent-Hopkins, Horcoff, Belanger and Lander is better then a Nugent-Hopkins, Gagner, Horcoff, Belanger group is confusing to me. At this point, it seems unlikely that the former London Knights standout will be given a shot in a top six role any time soon but there is no good reason, whatsoever, that he is not the current third line centre.
As good as Eric Belanger has been in the face dot, he himself has all of two assists in his sixteen games and has been nothing short of a disaster upfront. You will have the Belanger apologists say that the faceoff specialist has been a 40 point player in the past, which happened last season for the first time in his ten year career, but they are the same people that will tell you Gagner being a 40-50 point guy just isn't good enough...how does that make any sense? The former Los Angeles Kings draft pick can put up points when he is placed in a top six role because of necessity, much like Horcoff playing in a first line role in Edmonton for the last number of years. They are different players and bring different things to the table but Gagner can't bring anything with who and where he is currently playing. Where as Belanger, can easily do what he does from the fourth line and the team would be better off for it.
If the organization has decided that their current centre icemen have past Gagner on their depth chart, that is fine but to allow the young man to wallow in the abyss he currently sits in, is poor asset management. Not only does his current performance level seriously down grade his value in a trade but it is frankly doing nothing for the kids confidence. As I mentioned earlier, he may not be at the level that many fans and critics think he should be but Gagner has bled Orange and Blue since being drafted back in 2007. He was never one of those players, and there were more then a few, that decided to quit when things were not going well. In fact, he's been the complete opposite. The London, Ontario native, has given his all whenever he has pulled on the Oilers jersey and wants nothing more then to be part of the solution moving forward.
For this club to have Sam playing in his current role and allowing his struggles to continue, with next to no help, it is down right shameful. Yes, he hasn't been good in his return but it seems as though this organization is more then ok with him not finding his game. A team owes it to their players to help them work thru the tough times and for whatever reason, Edmonton seem to have no interest in doing that with Sam Gagner and it may be something this club ends up regretting in the long run.