Sam Gagner's sensational team record tying 8 point performance against Chicago last night puts him into the NHL spotlight with under a month to go until the trade deadline.
How surprising was last night's 8 point splurge? Beyond putting him in the historically rarified air of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, it was more points than Sam I Am has put up in any previous month this season except for 9 points in 12 December games. It propels him from 22 points to 30 overnight and puts him on pace for his first 50 point season.
Earlier in the year when Gagner was briefly a good fit on LW with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle I asked Tom Renney if he saw a future for Gagner as a Top 6 winger. The Oiler coach surmised that if Gagner could eventually score 20 as his third line centre that the Oilers would be in very good shape.
But is that where Gagner is the best fit? Can he be a Number 1 or 2 centre, which was the scouting report out of the draft? Gagner racked up 118 points with Patrick Kane and Sergei Kostitsyn in London in his only year of Major Junior action. He followed with a promising 49 point rookie season with the Oil. Since then there have been only sporadic glimpses of the player Edmonton thought they were getting in the '07 draft, until last night's eyeful(and net full) against the Hawks.
So where do the Oilers go from here with Gagner? Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is the undisputed Number One C for the next decade in Edmonton. Are the Oilers best served going forward with RNH and Jordan Eberle on one line, Gagner and Taylor Hall on another? A third line of Smyth, Horcoff and Jones behind a young star studded Top 6 looks pretty good going forward.
Or is Gagner destined to be an Oiler 3rd liner with second team power play duties long term on the rebuilding Oil. Does a lineup with Gagner as a productive third line centre as Renney envisioned the best place to slot him?
Sam Gagner's 8 point night last night was one for the ages, and it should give Oiler GM Steve Tambellini a few more options in the weeks ahead.