Last Thursday night, the sports world was treated to a spectacle nearly worthy of the following Sunday’s Super Bowl. It did not, however, come at the hands of Kobe Bryant, Novak Djokavic or even Sidney Crosby. Instead, it came at those of a 22-year-old London, Ontario native who racked up an amazing eight points for his Edmonton Oilers in a game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Sam Gagner, drafted sixth overall by the Oilers in the 2007 NHL draft, put on an absolute clinic against Corey Crawford and the Chicago Blackhawks, beating the goalie twice and assisting on three other tallies before back-up Ray Emery relieved him of his duties. Emery did not help matters, however, as Gagner tacked on another two goals and an assist, finishing the night with four goals and four assists, tied for the most points by an Oiler in one game with Hall-of-Famers Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey.
If you were approached and told before Thursday’s game at Rexall Place that someone would score eight points that game, the name Sam Gagner would not be one that immediately leapt to mind. In a game that featured three Chicago all-stars in Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and one Edmonton all-star in Jordan Eberle, Gagner grabbed the spotlight early and never let it go. Gagner entered the game with just five goals – 22 less than Toews for a simple comparison. That didn’t stop the Junior Hockey London Knights legend who, until this past week, appeared to be a major bust of a draft pick, scoring under 17 goals and 50 points in each of his first four NHL seasons. After his offensive explosion though, it appears Gagner is well on his way to his first truly successful season as he picked up another goal and three assists in his next two games and set an Oilers record by contributing on 11 consecutive Edmonton goals.
When Gagner entered the league in 2007 as a top-10 draft pick, most hockey analysts expected the 18-year-old to lead the incoming class in offense along with fellow London Knight Patrick Kane and the Univeristy of North Dakota’s Jonathan Toews. The three Canadians all finished among the top five rookies in scoring, but from there the Chicago duo went on to bigger and better things, leaving Gagner to carry out a far less glamorous career.
Still, the centerman got his chances throughout his tenure in Edmonton as a staple third-line center who would move up to the top lines if injuries called for it. A sprained shoulder muscle to rookie first-line center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins allowed for such an opportunity and, for much of this season, Gagner has filled in on a line with 2010 first overall pick Taylor Hall and 2008 22nd overall pick Jordan Eberle. Not surprisingly, Hall and Eberle each had four points Thursday night, contributing directly to their pivot’s legendary game. With Nugent-Hopkins sidelined for at least another week, the Hall-Gagner-Eberle line has room to grow and continue to put up numbers with shades of those of the Jari Kurri-Wayne Gretzky-Essa Tikkanen line of the 1980s. Just as No. 99 did 20 years ago, Gagner will continue to try to use his talent to bring together the abilities of his linemates.
Gagner’s legacy compared to those of Oiler greats Gretzky and Coffey is not nearly of the same caliber, nor will it ever be. His magical night may not lead to a Hall of Fame career, and most fans may not remember his name in 15 or 20 years. However, what Sam Gagner’s astonishing eight-point night did do was remind us all of the beauty of sport. It reminded us that on any given night, in any given sport, from any given player, the amazing can happen, and that’s exactly why we watch the game.
Contact Ben Glassman at [email protected]