VANCOUVER — Being a sixth-overall draft pick comes with a tonne of freight, and if you’re not careful the weight will crush you.
There are immense expectations and scrutiny, and constant comparisons to the 200 players drafted after you. The sixth-overall pick who falters is greeted not so much with criticism as derision.
Jake Virtanen? We’ll see. But we’re talking in this case of Vancouver Canuck teammate Sam Gagner, who probably saved his National Hockey League career last season with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“There isn’t a playbook,” Gagner, 28, said about navigating the violent turns in his career the last three years. “If someone had told me at 18 that when I’m 26, I was going to clear waivers and go to the minors, I wouldn’t have been happy about it. But having gone through it and come out the other side, and now being back, I wouldn’t trade it. It has really allowed me to grow as a person and a player and allowed me to handle the adversity of the season. Even in your best season, there will be some adversity.”
So imagine what it’s like in the bad seasons.
Gagner, who is from London, Ont., appeared on his way to becoming one of the great, young playmakers in the NHL when the sixth pick of the 2007 draft made the Edmonton Oilers two months after his 18th birthday and posted 36 assists and 49 points as a rookie in 2007-08.
But until last season, when he contributed 50 points for Columbus, Gagner never eclipsed his freshman mark over a full season.
Sure, he kept posting 40 points a year for the aimless Oilers, who proved team-building requires a lot more than accumulating young players and showering them with ice time and money.
Although Gagner’s points flat-lined and his team continued to be dreadful, the Oilers kept raising his salary and in 2013 signed him to a three-year extension worth $4.8 million a season.
A year later, the Oilers dumped his salary on the Tampa Bay Lightning, who in turn shuffled it on to the Arizona Coyotes.
One season later, the Coyotes upgraded the salary dump by taking Chris Pronger on their payroll in a multi-component deal that sent Gagner to the Philadelphia Flyers.
In 53 games in the final season of his lucrative three-year contract, Gagner contributed so little to the Flyers (16 points in 53 games) that Philadelphia waived him and assigned …read more