Sam Gagner will never be mistaken for the next Wayne Gretzky. But for one glorious night, the Edmonton Oilers centre who wears No 89 looked a lot like the legendary Oilers centre who made No 99 famous.
With four goals and four assists in an 8-4 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks last week, Gagner tied the team record for most points in a game. And the 22-year-old Edmonton pivot joined an exclusive group of players in NHL history who have scored eight points in a game, including all-time greats such as Mario Lemieux, Rocket Richard, Peter Stastny, Bryan Trottier and Darryl Sittler.
Gagner's magical night, when all his scoring came in the second and third periods, was the first eight-point effort since Lemieux lit up the Philadelphia Flyers in a 1989 play-off game. Lemieux also had the last eight-point game in the regular season, in 1988.
Only Sittler, who scored 10 points - six goals, four assists - against Boston in 1976, has registered more than eight points in a game.
"I didn't have that good of a first period, but then everything I touched was going in," said an almost sheepish Gagner.
Gagner assisted with a goal early in the second period, then scored himself and added a power-play assist on Ryan Whitney's first goal of the year. Considering that Gagner's name has been mentioned in trade speculation, the television broadcasters calling the game acknowledged the three-point period as a great showcasing of Gagner's talent.
Then the third period arrived and every time Gagner was on the ice, the puck ended up in Chicago's net. There was a cheap second assist on a Cam Barker knuckleball from the point that somehow eluded Corey Crawford, the Blackhawks goalie who was yanked shortly after, but the remainder of Gagner's five third-period points (three goals, two assists) were the result of poetic passing plays.
It was a night when everything went right for a young NHL player who has struggled through an up-and-down career. Gagner entered the contest with five goals and 22 points in 43 games this season; a couple hours later he was at nine goals and 30 points. More significantly, perhaps the game will serve as a springboard and elevate Gagner's performance to another level. He obviously has the talent, and perhaps now he'll have the confidence, too.
"It's a great lesson to never set limits," he said. "The great players who played here never did that."