Like Drake, Sam Gagner started out at the bottom. Unlike Drake, he’s back there. And he couldn’t be happier.
“I’ve really enjoyed it,” Gagner said of playing for the Detroit Red Wings. “It’s an original six team, a lot of history. When I was growing up and when I was starting in the league, they were the team.
“I look back to my first couple of years in the league. Coming into Joe Louis Arena was always kind of a nightmare because of some of the guys you had to go up against.”
Selected sixth overall by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2007 NHL entry draft, Gagner spent his first seven seasons with the Oilers as they rebuilt from the ground floor. He’s seen that process from the point of view of an incoming NHLer. Now that he’s a veteran skating in a similar scenario in Detroit, Gagner is drawing upon those lessons as he seeks to mentor young Red Wings through the same situation.
Drawing Upon Experience
“It allows me to see it from a different perspective and kind of help our young group coming up,” Gagner said. “A lot of the things they’re going to go through early in their careers I’ve been through.
“I was a high pick in Edmonton, one of the guys that was kind of expected to help turn things around. You learn a lot about yourself and there’s a lot of growth that comes with that.
Sam Gagner and the rest of the clan are pumped to be staying in Detroit for another year! #NHLFreeAgency
(📸: IG/sgagner89) pic.twitter.com/cK7s6YMxFe
— NHL (@NHL) July 29, 2021
“Handling that adversity has made me a better person. It helps in the situation that I’m in now, being able to kind of impart some of that on our young group.”
It’s one of the reasons why he wanted to be back in Detroit this season. It’s also partly why Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman sought to keep Gagner in the fold as he was eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer.
“What I do like is generally he’s a great pro” Yzerman said. “He’s got a great attitude and he’s comfortable in the role he has on the team as a veteran, setting a good example for the young guys.
“He’s patient, he’s been through it all, so he’s got great experience that he can relay or pass on to the younger players.”
Sharing His Wisdom
Entering his 15th NHL season, Gagner, 31, has also reinvented himself as a player. A dynamic offensive player who once recorded eight points in a single game, today, he fills more of a two-way and is a top penalty killer.
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) July 28, 2021
As much as he can tell the younger players what to expect, Gagner believes his words carry more gravitas is he can first show them that he can deliver the goods on the ice.
“I think the biggest thing is you want to be a good hockey player,”Gagner said. “That’s the best way to help the group.
“If I can bring my best every night, my voice, it travels a little further within the room.”