On Wednesday morning, as the Philadelphia Flyers prepared to take on the Boston Bruins, it looked as if Sam Gagner would be a healthy scratch for the third time in the 2015-16 season.
Although Gagner has historically been a productive forward, he does not seem to have earned coach Dave Hakstol’s trust. Gagner is not known for his defensive acumen, nor is he an incredibly fast skater.
Due to a last minute injury to Brayden Schenn, Gagner suited up for the Flyers on Wednesday night. He provided a goal, along with 15:42 of ice time and a solid overall performance. When Sean Couturier went down at the end of the first period, it opened the door for even more playing time and for greater responsibility to be placed on Gagner.
Despite his flaws, I believe that Gagner has earned a regular spot in the lineup. He is a skilled player who is versatile and seems to understand Hakstol’s system. He may never be a Selke Trophy nominee, but he can handle himself in the Flyers top nine and should be given a permanent spot. His stickhandling and shot are a huge asset to have.
If you still need convincing, take a look at his goal from Wednesday night:
Sam Gagner sniping pic.twitter.com/kLBomP0CX6
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) October 22, 2015
By The Numbers
In both traditional and advanced stats, there is reason to believe that Gagner is helping the Flyers. He has two goals through four games and is one of the team leaders in points.
His advanced metrics do not look that great on the surface, but they are respectable upon further examination. His Corsi For percentage is not good (-2.66% Corsi Rel) and that is an area in which he has always been about average (although playing for teams like Edmonton and Arizona probably did not help his case).
However, what has been interesting about Gagner this season has been his usage. He is 3rd to last on the team in terms of 5v5 zone starts at 47.06% (8 offensive zone starts, 14 neutral zone starts, 9 defensive zone starts). Despite relatively tough zone start numbers, he has still come out on top in terms of scoring chances. While Gagner has been on the ice this season, the Flyers have held 52.12% of the scoring chance share. That percentage is 1.15% higher than the team average.
It is still incredibly early in the season, but if Gagner can produce scoring chances and goals while handling his fair share of shifts in the defensive zone, that will bode well for Gagner and the Flyers as the season progresses.
So far this season Sam Gagner has lined up at every forward position. With Couturier out of the lineup last night, Gagner took a few shifts at center and has also played both wings.
The Flyers, as everyone knows, are deep at the center position. After their starting four of Giroux, Couturier, Laughton, and Bellemare they still have natural centers like Brayden Schenn, Vincent Lecavalier, and Ryan White on their roster. Each player can take turns down the middle.
Similarly, on the right side the Flyers have both Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek. Players like Matt Read, Brayden Schenn, and Ryan White have each taken turns on the right side as well, and they seem to prefer it.
This leaves plenty of room on the left side for Gagner’s skill set. However, as injuries begin to come to the forefront, Gagner’s ability to play either wing will bode well for his chances to stay in the lineup.
Who To Sit?
So, once everyone is healthy, who should sit for Gagner? In the first two games, in which everyone was healthy, Gagner found himself as a healthy scratch. Similarly, he was supposed to be a scratch on Wednesday night until it was discovered that Schenn had an upper body injury.
Despite the way RJ Umberger looked last year, and his history of bad possession numbers, he also seems to have earned a spot in the lineup. He should not be the player to sit for Gagner. The fourth line, though they are earning coach Dave Hakstol’s trust, may be where a player needs to sit.
Chris Vandevelde and Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare average 2:41 and 2:55 respectively on the penalty kill each game. They have become a fairly reliable duo and their use on the PK has given players like Giroux and Couturier a break. Therefore, the most logical person to sit out is Ryan White.
Thanks to a career year last season, Ryan White was a lock for the 2015-16 Flyers squad. However, his play has not quite matched what he did last year. Having players like a rejuvenated Umberger and a motivated Gagner in the lineup instead of Ryan White could do wonders for the Flyers down the stretch.
*All advanced metrics were found at war-on-ice.com and can be found there.*