Knight Cap Anyone?
By: Mark Solway 
Posted: 2007-06-21
Category: Washington Capitals News
The Washington Capitals have the fifth overall pick in this weekend's NHL Entry Draft. Prognosticating whom the Caps will take at the number five slot requires a lot of analysis - who will the teams before them take? Will the Caps draft for need or by best available talent? Will they take someone that can make a more immediate impact?

They are all questions that are beyond the scope of most people. Nobody from an organization that truly knows the answers to some of these questions, is going to divulge the information. For argument's sake, let's mock the draft as Kyle Turris, Patrick Kane, Jim Van Riemsdyk, and Alexei Cherepanov. It's not a given, but there's a pretty good chance that those four names will go in some order as the top four on Friday.

Sam Gagner would be an excellent choice for the Capitals at number five. The number five slot is about where Gagner is expected to go based on ranked ability, and several of the most recent mock drafts have Gagner going to Washington.

Living in London, Ontario where Gagner plays his junior hockey has afforded yours truly the opportunity to watch him play on a very regular basis. Many great young hockey players blow through the town of London, and Gagner is no exception.

He just finished his rookie Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season; a season in which he posted 118 points in 53 games. Normally that type of output would be front page stuff, but when another rookie and teammate by the name of Patrick Kane is putting up even gaudier numbers (145 points in 58 games), it doesn't get noticed as often as it should. Gagner's numbers may have been second to teammate Kane's, but they weren't second to anyone else in the league's. Sam's 113 points were the second best rookie total in the league.

Kane and Gagner actually played together on a line for the 2006/07 season, and along with Sergei Kostitsyn, they formed the OHL's very best threesome. Together they dominated opposing teams, with a combined 394 points.

Both players were named to the 2006 OHL Rookie All-Star Team, Gagner at center and Kane at right wing. Both players lit it up at that All-Star game; Gagner with five points (1 goal, 4 assists), and Kane with four points (2 goals, 2 assists).

Both players had abbreviated OHL seasons, because they played for their country at the World Junior Championships. Both came home with medals (Gagner with Canada's gold and Kane with U.S.A.'s silver).

In the playoffs, Kane and Gagner combined for a ridiculous 60 points in 16 games. The only thing that stopped the two of them (and the rest of the London Knights) from an OHL championship series was running into the Washington Capitals number one draft pick from last year - Michal Neuvirth.

You see Kane and Gagner's names together a lot, but it shouldn't take away from either of their respective, distinctive abilities. Both players are destined to be playing at an NHL venue near you, and some time in the very near future.

Gagner is a year younger than Kane, but plays with a little bit more size and aggression, and carries a little more weight. At 5'11" and 190 pounds when he's only seventeen years old, Gagner's size won't be an issue.

He has tremendous vision, and terrific hands for his size. He's very cerebral, and it translates to great play-making skills; something that Washington needs at center.

Sam is also a fiery competitor; a trait that he likely gets from his dad. Dave Gagner enjoyed a long career spanning fifteen NHL seasons, and seven NHL cities (New York Rangers, Minnesota, Dallas, Toronto, Calgary, Florida and Vancouver). He was a gritty player, and it obviously rubbed off on his son Sam.

Due diligence dictates that the Capitals have likely spoken at length with Caps' legend and now London Knights coach/co-owner Dale Hunter about Gagner and Kane over the last few months. Since Kane will likely hear his name called first or second at the draft, it appears as though Gagner is destined to take that proverbial backseat again.

Number five isn't so bad though, is it?
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