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Sam Gagner’s strange path to Vancouver Canucks

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This post is part of Canucks Day on PHT…

Plenty of free agents take winding paths, particularly when it comes to joining struggling teams like the Vancouver Canucks. Even by those standards, Sam Gagner‘s traveled a strange path.

His NHL career started off strong as the Edmonton Oilers made him the sixth pick of the 2007 NHL Draft. Gagner made an immediate impact, scoring 13 goals and 49 points as a rookie in 2007-08.

The high point of his Oilers run came in February 2012 when he became the first player since Mario Lemieux to generate an eight-point night. He also broke a Wayne Gretzky record during that stretch.

That’s not to say that it was all good times for Gagner in Edmonton. There were some freakish injuries and, naturally, the Oilers struggled on the ice.

2014-15

Things started to get weird when Gagner was traded twice on the same day on June 29, 2014. Gagner was sent to the Lightning and then to the Arizona Coyotes, with Tampa Bay essentially laundering $1.6 million of Gagner’s cap hit.

After some “tough years,” Gagner was hoping that he could take advantage of a clean slate with Arizona. That fresh start didn’t go too well, with a healthy scratch included.

2015-16

The Coyotes decided that Gagner just wasn’t working as a center and then decided to trade him to the Philadelphia Flyers in that odd trade that sent Chris Pronger’s contract to Arizona. Once again, Gagner was involved in teams dealing with odd salary cap machinations.

Once again, Gagner hoped to prove something, but he didn’t pull it off to the Flyers’ liking.

Along the way, there always seemed to be questions about his status, from buyout talk to AHL demotions. Gagner was also placed on waivers. He was occasionally bloodied and generally disregarded in Philly.

2016-17

Here’s how low his status dropped by last summer: he signed a bargain-basement one-year contract with a Columbus Blue Jackets team that came off an awful 2015-16 season. Gagner accepted a $650K “prove-it” salary.

And he did indeed prove it as the trigger on a shockingly effective Blue Jackets power play. His resurgence became one of the feel-good stories of last season.

In scoring 18 goals and 50 points, Gagner resurrected his career, earning a three-year, $9.45 million contract with the Canucks in the process.

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Rarely will you see such a combination of great bounces and lousy luck as Gagner’s experienced. He began as a high draft pick, broke some records in Edmonton, and eventually fell out of favor/was often a scapegoat with the Oilers. He was tossed around in trades and struggled to stick with teams. There was also a lockout run in Austria, a fight with Olli Jokinen, and some tough-luck injuries.

And now, after those twists and turns, Gagner finds what looks like stability in Vancouver.

Then again, it doesn’t look like Gagner has a no-trade clause, so who knows …

Is Brayden Schenn’s star turn for real?

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For years, hockey nerds and/or experts were waiting for Brayden Schenn to make “the leap.” Eventually, people gave up on that, to the point that the 26-year-old’s trade to the St. Louis Blues seemed more like a curious swap than a tide-turner.

Now, sure, Schenn found a solid niche with the Philadelphia Flyers, but it was in more of a specialist role. Many believed that he was dependent upon a plum gig on the team’s lethal power play and would possibly slip in St. Louis.

Considering that 17 of his 25 goals came on the power play last season, it wasn’t that outrageous to wonder if he might be just “a guy” in St. Louis.

As it turns out, he’s bordering on the guy with the Blues, and it’s been a truly wondrous thing to behold. Wondrous and baffling, to be honest.

On Saturday, it seemed like his hot streak would come to an end … until overtime. In what was very much a solo effort, Schenn beguiled the Vancouver Canucks to secure a 4-3 OT win for his Blues.

Nice. Now, it’s true that Schenn wasn’t the overall star of the night for St. Louis, as that probably goes to Paul Stastny, who piled up three assists. Still, Schenn’s third game-winning goal of the season extended his point streak to seven games, and it’s not like he’s just eking out production, either:

Wow. Overall, Schenn now has 8 goals and 26 points in 21 games during his debut season with the Blues. He’s on a pace to absolutely smash the best work of his career, which came in previous seasons where he collected 55 and 59 points.

So, naturally, the question is: with about a quarter of the season over, how much of this is real and how much of this is a lucky little mirage?

Under normal circumstances, one would lean toward luck, especially with a guy who’s already 26. That doesn’t sound old, and it’s certainly in a scorer’s prime range, but it also strikes as a bit unexpected.

To some extent, this is luck. Frankly, it’s not realistic to expect Schenn to average 1.25 points per game; consider that Sidney Crosby‘s career mark is 1.30, and you realize it’s wise to dial back expectations for a guy whose previous career-high was .74.

That aside, there are some reasons to believe that Schenn could very well remain a bigger scorer with the Blues than he did with the Flyers. Allow me to break it down.

Firing away

Whenever you’re trying to do some hockey myth-busting, shooting percentage is a great place to start. If one-third of the pucks a guy sends toward the net beats a goalie, then ‘ol gravity might not be very kind.

According to NHL.com, Schenn has now connected on 14 percent of his shots on goal this season (eight of 57). That might be a little high, but his career average is 12.5.

Now, assists are a big part of his totals, and that’s where things should cool down. Schenn’s most common linemates have been Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz, by quite a margin according to Natural Stat Trick.

So, you can deduce that some of Schenn’s numbers are inflated by those two, especially with Schwartz connecting on 22.2 percent of his SOG so far in 2017-18.

Nurtured

And that’s where things could slide quite a bit. If the Blues get some talent back from that wave of summer injuries, perhaps Mike Yeo might move Schenn away from one or both of Tarasenko and Schwartz?

The overall setup definitely gooses Schenn’s numbers, but it’s not just linemates.

He’s getting way more ice time, in general. Schenn is averaging just under 20 minutes per night after logging almost 18 per evening last season, via Hockey Reference. While Schenn enjoyed fairly cushy zone starts before, it’s even more pronounced now; the 26-year-old’s began a career-high 63 percent of his shifts in the attacking zone entering tonight’s game.

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So, long story short, you can expect some of this success to subside. The Blues, as a team, are on a roll that is likely cool down.

The more interesting queries revolve around how much the Blues and Schenn might slip from these hot streaks. It should be some, but will the slide be as extreme as some expect? It should be fun to find out.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Chance the Rapper plays clueless hockey reporter on ‘SNL’ (Video)

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Chance the Rapper hosted “Saturday Night Live” last night and in skit he played Lazlo Holmes, a New York Knicks reporter for Madison Square Garden network filling in for the usual New York Rangers reporter who’s on paternity leave.

Holmes quickly discovers that the temperature for hockey is a tad different than that of a hoops game, and that some of the names in the sport are pretty tough to say for an outsider, like Brady Skjei, for example.

It’s not quite Tim “Little Hockey” Meadows bemoaning the 1994 NHL lockout, but it was good for some chuckles.

Hopefully next time NBC has a coach mic’d up for a pre-game speech, he lets fly with “let’s do that hockey!”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

USHL goaltender scores goal, makes most of celebration (Video)

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It was a pretty eventful night Saturday in Sioux Falls as the USHL’s Stampede beat the Muskegon Lumberjacks 7-4 to sweep a weekend series.

After falling behind 3-0 in the first period, the Stampede scored five unanswered times en route to the win. Along the way, their first goal started the teddy bear tossing and the game’s final tally came off the stick of goaltender Mikhail Berdin. Not only did the kid make history by becoming the first goalie in franchise history to ever score, he followed it up with an impressive celebration.

Berdin, a 19-year-old sixth-round pick of the Winnipeg Jets in 2016, went with the bench fly-by, did some fist pumps, saluted the Denny Sanford PREMIER Center crowd and ended it with a Vince McMahon strut. That kid knows how to celebrate.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Monahan the man, torrid Tavares

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Choice PHT Cuts:

Canadiens, Maple Leafs did NOT play nice.

If you didn’t think Alex Ovechkin was tough …

*Rubs eyes* A winning streak … for the Coyotes?

Connor McDavid and Oilers are sad pandas.

Players of the Night

  • Anthony Duclair‘s hat trick is well-covered here, so check that out. Duclair gets one edge on Sean Monahan in that Duclair scored all of his team’s goals on Saturday, but Monahan combined his first career hat trick with an assist, helping his Flames win in OT much like Duclair did for Arizona.

Monahan slightly upstaged Johnny Gaudreau (one goal, two assists) who was pumped to play in front of a crowd in Philly.

  • Paul Stastny collected three assists to help the Blues beat the Canucks in overtime. Check PHT on Sunday morning for an in-depth look at Brayden Schenn, who kept his hot streak going with the OT-clincher.
  • John Tavares just continues to ride high with a goal and two assists. The real stars might be the Islanders as a whole, however, as they beat the Lightning and kept Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov pointless in a 5-3 Isles win.
  • Frederik Andersen has achieved back-to-back shutouts, helping the Leafs make the Habs extra-miserable. He made 33 saves, so you could argue Montreal deserved better than a 6-0 fate.

Heel of the Night?

While Connor McDavid absorbed an odd portion of the Oilers’ blame in defeat despite a three-point night, Antoine Roussel really played up his villain cred. He collected three points of his own and did this:

Highlight of the Night

Going off script a bit here, let’s go with Alex Ovechkin bouncing back from this:

And Corey Crawford being OK despite this bump from Evgeni Malkin.

Both players helped their teams seal up wins as a bonus. (Feel free to share your favorite highlights from tonight, even if they don’t involve near-injuries.)

Factoid of the Night

Congrats, Antti Niemi. Kind of.

Here’s a free joke regarding that situation.

Scores

Flames 5, Flyers 4 (OT)
Stars 6, Oilers 3
Coyotes 3, Senators 2 (OT)
Jets 5, Devils 2
Kings 4, Panthers 0
Hurricanes 3, Sabres 1
Maple Leafs 6, Canadiens 0
Islanders 5, Lightning 3
Blackhawks 2, Penguins 1
Capitals 3, Wild 1
Predators 5, Avalanche 2
Blues 4, Canucks 3 (OT)
Bruins 3, Sharks 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.