Sam Gagner is only about a week or two from having his face guard removed. It should be of huge benefit to him as he has been unable to play a more physical style or fight -- something that he has done in the past to try and spark himself and his teammates.
"It's something I like to do when things aren't going well. You look at it from a teammate perspective. When I'm on the bench and Luke (Gazdic) has a big fight or there's a big hit or guys are playing really hard, it gives you a lift. And I think individually it does as well, if you're able to do it."
|NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 28: Taylor Hall #4 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates his goal with Sam Gagner #89 and Justin Schultz #19 against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on November 28, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images) |
Gagner added that he has had to try and find other ways to get that lift.
"It's tough not being able to do that, but for myself I just have to find other ways to make sure I'm contributing every night.I can still get to the net and still create chances that way, play hard in my D-zone, and that's got to be my focus."
Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins said that Gagner has gotten better as he's played more since returning from the injury. He also added that perhaps Gagner came back a little sooner than he should have, partially due to the team's play at the time.
“When he came back, we were in such a horrible place. I think he felt like the team needed him — and we did. I think he rushed getting back, maybe before he was quite ready or comfortable, for the good of the team. If you’re not quite ready physically or mentally, it’ll show in your game. When you’re off that little bit, it’s easy to go into a deeper hole.”
At the time of Gagner's return on October 29, the team was 3-8-1.
"Regardless, it's hard coming back when you've missed the first part of the season. I think it would have taken me some time no matter when I came back. There might have been some hesitance with the jaw but that's not an excuse for me. There was as stretch there where I was producing and helping the team win, and I can do that again. I can't use any of those things as an excuse."
Eakins feels there has been an improvement from the 24-year-old centre.
“I think he’s been slowly getting better. Sam and I talked as recently as yesterday morning. He feels it. He’s committed to getting better. He knows he can get better. His expectation on this team is to be the number one centreman — as does Nuge. And that’s the competition you want there.
“He’s not shying away from it. He knows he hasn’t played his best hockey yet but he’s fully committed to getting there.”
Gagner talked about moving up and down the lineup as he has been recently.
"I just want to win," Gagner stated. "I've been around this long enough that, obviously, there's personal success you want to have but at the end of the day it just sucks losing. I think for myself I just want to find a way to help contribute to some wins. It's a matter of continuing to push through and getting better."