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Gagner on signing PTO with Oilers: 'I have to fight for my spot'

Sam Gagner Winnipeg Jets Sam Gagner - Getty Images

Longtime NHL veteran Sam Gagner is hoping his career includes a third stint with the Edmonton Oilers.

Gagner, along with fellow veteran forward Brandon Sutter, signed a professional tryout agreement on Aug. 28 to attend training camp with the Oilers ahead of the 2023-24 season.

Gagner was ruled out for the remainder of the 2022-23 campaign in early March after he elected to have surgery on both of his hips. He had eight goals and 14 points in his lone season with the Winnipeg Jets.

“In the NHL you have to be very consistent, you have to be able to bring it every day in practice and in games,” explained Gagner in an interview Wednesday with TSN 1050. “In order to do that, I had to get there real early and make sure I went through my entire process to get my hips ready and be able to get on the ice.

“It wasn’t just a situation where I could just go and do a little warmup and throw my gear on and be ready to go. It was a long process every day. I think the grind of doing that every day and then the anxiety of, ‘are my hips going to hold up today? Are they going to feel good?’ That begins to wear on you.”

Starting his career in Edmonton after being drafted sixth overall by the Oilers in 2007, he has also suited up for the Arizona Coyotes, Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wings and Jets, as well as stints in the AHL with Lehigh Valley, Toronto and Bakersfield. Gagner skated in his 1,000th NHL game last season with the Jets, where he was honoured on Dec. 29 at Canada Life Centre against the Canucks.

The 34-year-old isn’t sure yet if he’ll be a full participant early in camp as he is approximately five months into a six month rehab. Gagner has skated in only 11 postseason games during his NHL career, the last being in a first-round exit with the Blue Jackets in 2017. The Oilers were eliminated in six games in the second round in last season’s playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights. In 2022, they were swept in the Western Conference finals by the eventual champion Colorado Avalanche.

The Oilers made small moves in the offseason, re-upping restricted free agents Evan Bouchard and Ryan McLeod, dealing Kailer Yamamoto and Klim Kostin and inking free agent forward Connor Brown to a one-year contract.

“I have a ton of familiarity there [in Edmonton], I trust the training staff and the people there to kind of help me through this last stage of recovery,” said Gagner of his decision to sign a PTO in Edmonton. “And then No. 2, there’s a chance to win. I think they’re as well positioned as anybody, and that’s something that is exciting for me.

“I’m going in with no preconceived notions that I’ve made the team. I know that I have to fight for my spot and I’m prepared to do that.”