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Ottawa Senators Top 25 Under 25, #14: Gabriel Gagne

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After narrowly missing the cut last year, Gabriel Gagne storms into Top 25 Under 25 at #14.

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No. 14: Gabriel Gagne (Reader rank: 15, Last year: N/A)

Size, skill, speed - three components of becoming a good hockey player that aren't often found together. The Sens second rounder (36th overall) in 2015 has all three, and this tantalizing package was probably one of the reasons why the team decided to trade two picks (42nd overall, 3rd rounder in 2016) to the Devils for a chance to snag him. Gagne was rated in the late second round, early third round by most prognosticators (#61 by McKenzie, #36 by CSS-NA, #45 by Hockey Prospect, #64 by ISS, #91 by Future Considerations) but a little bird told the team that someone between 36th and 42nd was going to take Gagne - likely the Colorado Avalanche thanks to Patrick Roy's QMJHL scouting network.

It was likely his goal scoring prowess (16 -> 35) that got the Senators attention, but it's not like it was all due to shooting percentage inflation. From The Hockey Writers:

Gagné's 255 shots were good for first on his team and 13th overall in the Q, and he also ranked 13th overall for the exclusively-QMJHL statistic, Dangerous Shots, with 154. The Q uses the stat DS/S in their box scores, indicating dangerous shots over total shots, but as you might expect, there's plenty of disagreement over what qualifies as a dangerous shot, a non-dangerous shot, and a scoring chance. Take that subjectivity for whatever it's worth, bottom line he's a huge winger who has shown the ability to improve and who likes to shoot the puck. Plus, plus, and plus.

This was echoed in a scouting report from ISS Hockey:

He's a big winger that works hard and competes. Skating is fine for his size with decent speed. Seems to be able to handle the puck but a better shooter then play maker. With added strength and size has a chance to develop into a quality power forward.

And by TSN's Craig Button:

He's a big, rangy winger who shows very good ability to score. He has a good shot and good hands in tight around the net. His size is good and utilizing it to greater advantage to gain those valuable offensive positions will allow him to be more threatening. More initiative can lead to more goals.

Let's make something clear. I don't think Gagne would've been this high on this list if we just factored in his 2015-16 regular season performance. After putting up 35 goals in his draft year, Gagne struggled with injuries and saw his goals per game dip from 0.52 to 0.40, his points per game stay stagnant from 0.88 to 0.86, and his shots per game dip from 3.81 to 2.74. Luckily for Gagne and the Senators, he finished incredibly strong. Finally setting in after a mid-season trade from Victoriaville to Shawinigan, Gagne solidified the Cataractes top-six and helped them make the QMJHL Final with 22 points in 22 games, beating Thomas Chabot's Saint John team in the semis before bowing out to Francis Perron's Huskies. Despite this strong performance, there are question marks raised by the cynic in me: Gagne's playoffs shots per game only saw a small increase (2.90) and he was on a stacked Cataractes team that had 3 other forwards with higher points-per-game marks in the playoffs, meaning that Gagne likely wasn't facing the other team's top defence pairing.

What does Gagne have to work on? It seems to boil down to two things when you read the comments from scouting services and Sens management: physical immaturity and skating. Part of this may have to do with 'role casting' - i.e. "if you're big, why aren't you a power forward? Play harder!!!!" It does seem to be a comment that's repeated again and again, though.

From Pierre Dorion in May, 2016:

Gagne's really picked up his game in the playoffs here, but again, he had a tough year with the injury and physically, he's very immature. So it's about commitment and seeing where we are. Gabriel hopefully at one point in time will play for us, but I think he's more of a project.

From Randy Lee + Gagne, Development Camp 2016:

Gagne, 6-foot-5 and 195 pounds, is coming off an inconsistent, injury-plagued 2015-16 season with Victoriaville and Shawinigan in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Senators assistant GM Randy Lee says Gagne needs to be more "intense" and to "play harder" in order to have a long-term future with the organization.

Gagne has heard the message, over and over again.

"I have to, with my size, be a power forward," said Gagne, who was chosen 36th by the Senators at the 2015 draft. "I have to be hard. I have to shoot, move my feet, finish my hits. I have to show everybody I can finish my hits, win my one-on-one battles."

Thankfully, it seems like Gagne delivered on this at Development Camp, with Randy Lee calling him a surprise and having good things to say in a post-camp interview (transcribed by Nichols):

Gabriel Gagne, who is a guy who Shean Donovan and myself have gone after really hard for a guy who's got tons of skills, but his effort, his intensity and his engagement didn't match (those skills). And he addressed it and he was more of a power forward this camp. He worked really hard on and off the ice. We watched him in the sparring sessions, we watched him in the sprint mechanic sessions and he applied himself. We gave him a big pat on the back."

Granted, being ~185lbs at 6'5 is lanky, so Gagne does have to build strength and size to ensure that he's not knocked off the puck or his skates easily at the pro level. As he gains mass, he'll have to keep working on his skating to ensure that he has the top-end speed to get to the areas of the ice where he needs to be. Skating as a ceiling on Gagne's NHL potential was something noted by ESPN's Corey Pronman in his midterm evaluation of the prospects in the Senators organization.

Gagne still has a lot of work to do, and it's one of the reasons why the Senators are letting him go into his final junior year unsigned, just like they did with Francis Perron. As the team's top right-wing prospect, the message here is: "earn it". I'm inclined to agree with their decision.