The exact quote was "Gagner remains one of the Oilers best offensive options and is now the top offensive center on the club. Although he has miles to go before he can boast Horcoff's range of skills, offensively Gagner is delivering a nice number (especially at even strength). He faced tougher opposition and faced that opponent with (mostly) rookie wingers so this season should be viewed as a nice step forward."
There are people who like Gagner more than I do and there are those who believe he will never amount to much (for more on that, stay tuned for the comments section of this post). Since the Oilers are likely to see significant changes this season at center (and how the C's are used) I thought it might be a good idea to look at the position in terms of scoring, time on ice and possible role.
EVEN STRENGTH TOI/G & 5X5/PTS 60
- Sam Gagner 14:25/1.91
- Shawn Horcoff 14:24/1.47
- Eric Belanger 14:02/1.85
- Andrew Cogliano 13:36/1.33
For this fall, with Nugent-Hopkins likely drawing in over Cogliano I'd think that coach Renney will rely heavily on veterans Horcoff and Belanger to do the heavy lifting and perhaps give Gagner and RNH the soft parade and more gifted linemates. The tough minutes wingers (Smyth, Hemsky, probably Eager & Jones) would do the heavy work with Horcoff and Belanger; this would allow Paajarvi-Omark and Hall-Eberle to draw the soft parade with Gagner and Nugent-Hopkins. With the Oilers sorely lacking complete wingers below Smyth, Jordan Eberle may be forced into a feature role if Jones falters (entirely probable).
Cogliano might also make the roster as a winger, moving up if RNH struggled through his first 9 games.
- Andrew Cogliano 2:43
- Eric Belanger 1:47
- Shawn Horcoff 1:33
- Sam Gagner 0:22
I'd think that Belanger and Horcoff would get more time this season in Edmonton. Cogliano's penalty-killing was one of the reasons coach Renney was so strong on him as the season wore on, but with Belanger on board and Horcoff (better in the FO circle, veteran presence and a lot of experience in the role) available that role should be covered. Cogliano might offer some help on the wing in these situations, as the Oilers don't have a lot of experience (Smyth, Jones has some experience) but there has been some hesitancy to move him to the wing. Gagner is not a PK factor.
PP TOI/G & 5x4/60
- Sam Gagner 2.56/2.51
- Shawn Horcoff 2:43/4.99
- Eric Belanger 1:30/2.05
- Andrew Cogliano 0:55/4.12
Gagner's number was off this past season but the Oilers PP was poor across the board. In 09-10, Sam Gagner's 5x4 number was 5.74 so there's powerplay contributor there. Gagner's main competition will probably come from RNH, and how well he performs on the PP is anyone's guess (Taylor Hall was middle of the pack a year ago as a rookie). Nugent-Hopkins is a playmaker--a powerplay quarterback--and that role might be difficult for the rookie when playing with Hall, Hemsky, Whitney and Barker (potentially).
So, with all that as a backdrop, a question: where does Andrew Cogliano fit? Can he find a role as a PK winger and 3/4 line winger early on and then move over if Nugent-Hopkins struggles and is sent away? How far is Anton Lander from being a legit 4line solution? Would he be a possible replacement for RNH after 9 games? And what happens if the arbitation award is too dear?
Can you find a spot for Andrew Cogliano?