Drafted sixth overall out of the OHL's London Knights after a decorated junior career, Sam Gagner was expected to provide big things for the Edmonton Oilers.
Instead, he proved merely to be a solid if unspectacular NHL player. He debuted as the league's youngest player as an 18-year-old in 2007 and acquitted himself well with 13 goals and 36 assists for 49 points. Surely, a teenager able to put up such impressive numbers would be in store for stardom.
Instead, the 49-point mark proved to be a high-water mark in Edmonton. Though Gagner became a model of consistency, finishing with between 14 and 18 goals and 24 and 29 assists the next five seasons with the Oilers, the breakthrough never quite came. And after just 10 goals, 27 assists and a minus-29 rating in 2013-14, he was on the way out via trade.
After a one-year stint in Arizona, Gagner had eight goals and 16 points in 53 games in 2015-16 with Philadelphia after his third trade in three seasons. Once looking like a future cornerstone player, Gagner joined his fifth team in a little over three years when he signed with Columbus.
What did we expect?
Inking a $650,000 one-year deal in August, Gagner, 27, entered Columbus with few expectations. There was hope he'd give the team depth at center, where the Blue Jackets were looking for bodies to replace the traded Ryan Johansen, while perhaps regaining the form he showed in the early years with Edmonton.
There was also hope he'd mesh with the team's young scorers and add scoring punch to the team's power-play attack.
"Kekalainen's gamble on Gagner could pay big dividends if he performs like he did during his days as an Oiler," The Hockey News wrote before the season. "In 481 games in Edmonton, Gagner scored 101 goals and 295 points, and 87 of those points came with the extra man. He's got the ability to be a perfect set-up man for the Blue Jackets' scorers, such as Brandon Saad, Boone Jenner and Cam Atkinson."
What did we get?
The power-play plan proved to be a smart move. Inserted into the team's top unit, Gagner meshed immediately with the Jackets, sparking Columbus to the league's best man-advantage unit early on in the year. By the time it was over, he had scored eight power-play goals and added 10 assists.
Gagner was also able to stay healthy, playing in 81 of 82 games. During his seven years with Edmonton, Gagner had averaged 17.9 goals and 50.2 points per 82 games, so perhaps it was no surprise he finished with 18 goals and 50 points in his first season in Columbus.
While Gagner was signed to bring depth to the team at center, that plan was scrapped early in the campaign and he spent the lion's share of the season at wing. Though he did eventually play in the middle at times, especially as Lukas Sedlak battled injuries, Gagner proved to be most adept for the Jackets on the wing.
Gagner had a trio of two-goal games in the first two months of the season, but no game he had was more impressive than the Dec. 5 win vs. Arizona. Gagner had two goals and two assists for a four-point night in just 11:30 of action as Columbus beat Arizona 4-1. Gagner tied the game at 1 midway through the first period on the power play, assisted on Nick Foligno's second-period winner, added an insurance goal in the third and finally assisted on a tally with 5:00 to play vs. Zach Werenski.
According to CapFriendly.com, Gagner is now an unrestricted free agent. Whether he will return to the Blue Jackets will likely depend on a number of factors such as what happens in the expansion draft and the terms of a deal Gagner might command on the open market.