|Edmonton's Sam Gagner and Chicago's Patrick Kane dominated the London Knights' top line in 2006-07, combining for 97 goals and 166 assists.
ATLANTA -- A year later, Sam Gagner is still dishing assists to Patrick Kane, only now the pass is coming through a television screen and the goal doesn’t do much for Gagner at all.
Kane, the 19-year-old wunderkind right wing for the Chicago Blackhawks, said his recent shootout goal against Phoenix was his best imitation of Gagner ( 700K), the 18-year-old Edmonton Oilers rookie center who served helpers to Kane all last season in the Ontario Hockey League.
“He’s got this one move that goalies can’t really figure out, so I went down and used it the other night and scored with it in a shootout,” Kane told NHL.com. “He comes down and he pulls it on his backhand to his forehand, fakes a shot, goes back to his backhand and pulls it to his forehand. It seems like he has an open net every time.”
It seemed that way for Kane any time he and Gagner rushed down the ice last season. It was like David Copperfield and Houdini combining on magic last season. Kane and Gagner dominated the London Knights’ top line, combining for 97 goals and 166 assists.
Tonight, the two young studs who have since graduated to the NHL will likely be the must-watch tandem for the Western Conference YoungStars during the Dodge/NHL SuperSkills competition (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio).
It will be their first time playing together since losing to the Plymouth Whalers in the OHL playoffs. Kane, the first overall selection in last year’s NHL Entry Draft, and Gagner, the No. 6 pick, are still close friends despite the distance between their new home cities.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Gagner told NHL.com. “I haven’t played with him for a while now. We played against each other a couple of times, but it should be fun to play together again.”
Kane scored 62 goals playing with Gagner last season, enough to win the OHL scoring title. In 50 NHL games, he has only 12, but his 23 assists and 33 points are the most among NHL rookies.
That’s why Kane had to laugh when he was asked what Gagner did to make him a better player last season.
“It’s funny,” he said with a smile and a chuckle. “Coming into this season I was more of a goal scorer because I played with Sam. He’s such a great passer. Now I’m just a passer.”
Gagner helped Kane more than just with his sweet passing. He would consistently make the one play Kane dreads, all the while teaching Kane that it must be done in order to create scoring chances.
“I probably shouldn’t say, but it’s working real hard to get the puck back,” Kane said. “That’s something I have to work on myself, but Sammy did a great job with that and than he just gave me the puck so we could do our thing out there.”
Gagner said playing with Kane was easy because of his elite skill set. He didn’t care if he had to grind his 5-foot-11, 190-pound body into the corners and get the puck out.
“He makes it pretty easy to play with him, and obviously that off-ice chemistry makes it easier to develop on-ice chemistry,” Gagner said. “That’s why we were successful.
“We’re into the same type of things. We have the same type of sense of humor. We’re able to really give it to each other. We’re not oversensitive and we can take it from each other. It’s fun that way.”
As the No. 1 overall pick for a team that was looking to rebuild with youth, Kane’s emergence as the face of the Blackhawks franchise was, albeit fast, somewhat expected.
If it weren’t for a strong preseason – he was buoyed by confidence gained after being named the MVP in the Summit Series – and a patient team, Gagner would likely be lighting up the OHL again right now, sans his skating mate.
He didn’t sign his first professional contract until Oct. 1, just days before the Oilers season opened against the San Jose Sharks.
“You almost look for reasons why he should go back,” Oilers GM Kevin Lowe told NHL.com in October, “and he hasn’t shown many.”
Gagner had an assist in his first game. He scored his first NHL goal in his eighth game ( 700K ). He has since wracked up 17 points, including 13 assists, but more impressive is his shootout totals.
Gagner’s five shootout goals ties him with teammates Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky for the most in the League. The Oilers are a remarkable 12-3 in shootouts, dominating the League by a landslide in that department. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ six shootout wins are second most in the League.
No wonder Kane decided to imitate his former linemate.
“Any time you get a chance to play with players like that it’s only going to help you in the NHL,” Gagner said. “When you play with high-skill level guys at a young age it teaches you how to play that type of game.”
When you put these two in the same room, you have to be blind not to see they’re unique friendship. Like normal teenage friends, they get a kick out of messing around with each other and playing practical jokes on one another. In fact, when a broadcast group pulled Kane aside for a one-on-one interview toward the end of the hour-long YoungStars media availability session Friday, they told him they had a special guest to conduct the interview.
Kane walked to the stage, and there was Gagner with a microphone in hand. Kane couldn’t wipe his smile off his face. He simply couldn’t take it seriously. He kept cracking up. At one point Gagner asked, “When are you going to get your own shootout move?”
“I got too many moves,” Kane responded.
Thanks to Gagner, of course. Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com