BOSTON - You would be hard-pressed to find a Blue Jackets player who has hit the ground running (skating?) like Sam Gagner.
Sure, he's a well-traveled veteran player who has been through this all before, but like so many players on this roster, he has something to prove. The 27-year-old was an unsigned free agent late into the summer before Columbus came calling, inking him to a one-year deal to add depth up the middle and help on the power play.
Training camp isn't a week old, mind you, yet Gagner is one of the players who has made a strong statement with his play.
In the Blue Jackets' first preseason game (last Sunday in St. Louis), he lined up at center with Scott Hartnell on his left and Cam Atkinson on his right. Columbus scored three goals in that game and Gagner had a hand in all three; he set up Hartnell twice and scored a power play goal of his own.
He was back in the lineup Tuesday in Boston, this time with a 30-goal scorer in Brandon Saad on the left side and rookie sniper Daniel Zaar on the right. It's to safe to say that, in a short period of time, Gagner has earned the right to get prime opportunities to show what he can do.
"We're trying to give him as many offensive looks as we can," John Tortorella said after Tuesday's game. "I don't think he panics, no matter what zone he's in with the puck. He knows where he's at; he's fighting, he's trying to find a spot. He's a right-hander, so that's another big plus…just keep on playing and I hope he keeps on going."
Gagner has been a productive offensive player throughout his career, but last season was a bit of a bump. He scored eight goals with the Philadelphia Flyers and spent time in the AHL, and then was forced to play the waiting game on the open market.
The Blue Jackets felt he was a good fit for how they want to play and what they were looking to add, and Gagner is confident he checks both boxes.
"I've felt more comfortable with each game and with each practice," Gagner told BlueJackets.com after Tuesday's shootout win. "(Sunday) was good playing with Hartnell and Cam, and (in Boston) I got to play with Saader. I feel my game is getting there and I'm just hoping to help this team out in any way that I can."
Versatility is the name of Gagner's game; he can play center or the wing, can contribute on the power play and has a wide-ranging toolbox of shootout moves. He put one of those moves on display Tuesday night, a mesmerizing combination of dekes and dangles that gave Columbus a 3-2 victory.
But regardless of what position he plays or which players he plays with, Gagner is thrilled about this opportunity and committed to being a contributor.
"At the end of the day, it's not really my decision as far as where I play or who I play with," Gagner said. "I'm happy to play with whoever and wherever (the coaches) decide to slot me."