EDMONTON – Sam Gagner believes plenty of success lies ahead for the Edmonton Oilers and says he can't wait to be part of it for at least the next three years after signing a new contract with the team on Monday.
"It's a great feeling," Gagner said from Toronto. "It's something that I wanted to get done. I wanted to remain an Oiler. I feel like I've been through a lot here. I like the city and I like where the team is going. It's something I want to be a part of. Now that something is done, I can focus on getting ready for the season."
The centre has spent his entire six-year career with the Oilers after getting selected sixth-overall at the 2007 NHL Draft. GM Craig MacTavish shared Gagner's enthusiasm about the two sides reaching a new three-year deal.
"We're very excited that Sam will continue to be a part of what we've started around here," MacTavish said. "He's been here for a long time, we feel like he has a lot of the elements we want on our team, and we're happy to have him back."
Gagner posted 14 goals and 38 total points, playing in all 48 of Edmonton's games during the shortened 2012-13 season, which also included a career-best 10-game point streak. He had scored between 41 and 49 points in the first five years of his career prior to last season, so he was on pace for a breakout campaign over a standard 82-game slate.
"I thought it was a big step for me," Gagner said of his most recent showing. "I felt pretty good throughout the entire season. I felt like I did a lot of good things and improved upon on what I've been working on. It's something I wanted to continue to do. As the team gets better, you want to get better along with it."
"He's at the stage of his career where he continues to get better," MacTavish said of Gagner's progression. "Sam continues to work on his game diligently, and I feel like he's still going to improve considerably as a player. We want to be a part of that. We know he's going to be a big part of this team going forward."
Despite being just 23 years old, Gagner is preparing to enter his seventh NHL season, and that veteran experience serves the Oilers well both on and off the ice, according to the GM.
"He's a great leader," MacTavish said. "He's seen a lot over the course of his six years, and he's always had a very professional attitude. Now he, like a lot of our core players, is wondering what the next step is in terms of organizational success. Sam is going to be a big part of leading that group forward."
Gagner's new deal is the latest in a number of Oilers transactions this month, as the team has also added the likes of Andrew Ference, Boyd Gordon, Denis Grebeshkov, Jason LaBarbera and David Perron to the mix. Perron and Gagner have a bit of prior experience playing together, as they competed in the 2006 Canada-Russia Challenge.
"I haven't had a chance to speak to everyone that we've picked up, but obviously there are a lot of good pieces that we've added," Gagner said. "(Perron) has unbelievable talent, and he's going to be a big help for us going forward. I'm looking forward to playing with him, and all the other new guys."
Heading into 2013-14, Gagner said he simply wants to keep developing the skills that have gotten him to this point in his career and contributing during key moments of the game.
"I want to be a consistent threat who's good on both sides of the puck," he said. "I want to be a guy who's counted on in big situations to help lead the team to the playoffs and beyond that. We all just want to win, and I want to be a big part of that. I have a good feeling about where things are going. We have a lot of good players now, so it's just about becoming a good team."
Suffice to say, 2013-14 opening night on October 1 can't come soon enough for Gagner and the Oilers.
"I feel like we have a good young core that can help us get into playoffs and have a chance to win Cups," he said. "Getting a chance to do that is the most important thing for me, and to have that happen in Edmonton would make it feel that much better. The team is going in the right direction and I have a lot I want to prove. I'm excited for the challenge."