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Coyotes hoping fresh start ignites forward Gagner

by Davis Harper continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.

When the Arizona Coyotes acquired forward Sam Gagner on June 30 in a three-team transaction, they knew they were getting a player with a unique history.

Once considered a point-producing prodigy, Gagner has never quite lived up to expectations. The Edmonton Oilers drafted him with the sixth pick at the 2007 NHL Draft, and the London, Ontario native made the team out of training camp. Gagner had an immediate impact despite being the youngest player in the NHL in 2007-08, scoring 49 points in 79 games.

Six seasons later, however, Gagner has yet to match that output.

In 2013-14, the 25-year-old endured his worst statistical season, scoring 37 points in 67 games with a minus-29 rating. Trade rumors trailed Gagner and a move this offseason appeared imminent.

Then on June 30, he was moved twice. Gagner was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning, and again to the Coyotes. Despite the whirlwind day, Gagner sounded relieved to start a new chapter.

"Obviously the last couple years in Edmonton haven't been great, so I'm excited for a fresh start," Gagner told NHL Network after the trade. "I'm at that phase of my career where I need to take a step forward, and I feel like Arizona is the place to do that."

Despite his dip in Edmonton, Gagner's offensive upside remains high. Nobody can forget his famous eight-point game (four goals, four assists) against the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 2, 2012. In the shortened 2012-13 season, Gagner scored 38 points in 48 games and showed he could be a consistent performer when healthy and motivated. With top-five scorers Mike Ribeiro and Radim Vrbata leaving town this summer, the Coyotes will need Gagner to step up his production at even strength and on the power play.

Coyotes coach Dave Tippett repeatedly said that Arizona hoped Gagner would benefit from a "change of scenery," specifically in the forward makeup of the Coyotes. Whereas Edmonton was full of quick, talented point-producers like Gagner, Arizona has a more physical, disciplined lineup that should allow Gagner the freedom to create.

"If you look at Gagner in Edmonton, they have some top, top talent with guys like [Ryan] Nugent-Hopkins, [Taylor] Hall, [Jordan] Eberle," Tippett said. "So we hope that Sam can get some of those key minutes that those players got in Edmonton that will allow him to flourish here.

"It's always a calculated risk, and we hope the change of scenery will do Sam good."

The change of scenery extends behind the bench. Since Tippett became Coyotes coach in 2009, Edmonton has had four different coaches. Gagner had five in his seven seasons there, and now will be under the tutelage of a franchise coach with a consistent philosophy, one he is eager to follow.

"I'm really excited for it, I think they play a solid two-way game and compete really hard," Gagner said. "I enjoy playing that way, I think it's really important to be competitive and work hard on and off the ice. I think it really fits well, and it's just a matter of making the most of it."

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