Sam Gagner showed a lot of promise last year with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He has been very quiet this season and here is how he can get himself going.
When the Vancouver Canucks signed Sam Gagner on July 1st last summer, there was some excitement. Gagner was coming off a very successful season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, showing his utility as a fourth line winger and staple of the power play. His $9.45 million-dollar deal would carry over for three years, setting expectations high for the forward.
At the time, Canucks fans did not know how Travis Green would use his forward group. After seeing the line flexibility that Green has used, Gagner’s talents should thrive in this system, in theory.
However, Gagner did not get off to the start he wanted. Through nine games, the winger only has two assists. Furthermore, the power play did not dramatically improve when he was on it despite bringing back power play specialist Newell Brown.
Now, it is unfair to put the failures of the power play on Gagner. There are issues regarding structure and entry that are better explained by Janik Biechler. He astutely points out that 70% of power play goals are scored in the “home plate” area in front of the net. That is an imaginary plate that extends from the top of the faceoff circles to where the trapezoid lines start on the goal line.
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I agree with Biechler on his assessment of the power play. The team needs to draw out penalty killers and not take shots at random. That is why I don’t think the Canucks have used Gagner in the best way possible.
In Columbus, Gagner’s wheelhouse was around the net. He drew defenders out of position and made life a nightmare for opposing goaltenders.
Did he have a few goals from farther out? Yes, but his bread and butter were creating dangerous chances up close. He should not be left on the point or be the trigger man on a set play. That job should be for Brock Boeser.
Last season, he played right wing on the fourth line, but this year he is on his off wing. The Canucks have a bit of a logjam at right wing, but if he remains on a line with Thomas Vanek and Alexander Burmistrov, Gagner could try switching places with Vanek. I think it’s important to note that Gagner looked very dangerous on a line with Burmistrov and Jake Virtanen. However, with the way Virtanen is currently playing with the Sedins, it would be unfair to pull him from that line.
Sam Gagner controls his destiny
At the end of the day, the Canucks can make all the changes they want, but it will be up to Gagner to be a little more noticeable. His underlying metrics are great. From Corsica, we can see Gagner has a 51.3 CF% and a 60 GF%. He is not a hindrance to his linemates when generating shots or scoring goals, while having over 57% of his starts in the defensive zone.
The analytics have shown Gagner in a positive light for the last four years. Regarding the eye test for this season, he has just been quiet. He plays well enough on defence, but is failing to stand out on offence.
Brendan Gaunce will be returning to the lineup soon, so the Canucks will have to decide if he sits or forces another forward out. If the forwards need a shakeup by the time Gaunce is ready, Gagner could be the odd man out. Gaunce has the same favourable analytical metrics from last year. If Gagner is still goalless by the end of October, then Travis Green might want to give another player a look in his place. We will have to wait and see until then.