Daily News Sports Writer (By Dana Pennett) -- September 30,1999
Twenty-five years ago, a kid by the name of Gagne headed to training camp with a Flyers affiliate in the hopes of making the big team.
He tried twice, in back-to-back years. Twice, he didn't make it, and that pretty much was the end of his NHL dreams.
That was Pierre Gagne.
Simon Gagne is a different story altogether. Simon Gagne, son of Pierre, needed just one shot to impress the Flyers' front office and, at 19, carve a spot on the NHL roster.
"It's funny when you think my father tried to make this team 25 years ago," Simon said as he sat at a Flyers locker finally bearing the Gagne name. "Now, it's my turn."
The question now: Does this Gagne, who makes his NHL debut on Saturday night when the Flyers open their season against visiting Ottawa, have what it takes to stick around?
Marcel Patenaude thinks he does. Patenaude is the director of hockey operations and chief scout for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where Gagne played the last three seasons.
"How good can he be?" Patenaude said. "It always depends on the way they use him, the players they put him with, but he can be an NHL star. I have no doubt he will be."
There is always a fear that bringing along young talent too quickly can backfire (see the Dainius Zubrus file) for the short term and prove out-and-out detrimental to a player's career. So often, young players are overwhelmed, both mentally and physically, when they make the jump to the NHL. The stronger, faster game swallows them up and spits them back down to the juniors.
Gagne, a center, won't be 20 until February. Last year, he was a superstar in the QMJHL, with 50 goals and 70 assists, but that was the juniors.
"It's risky, but for Simon, psychologically he's aware of that," Patenaude said. "He's mature and he knows exactly what he wants. I've been watching him all of his career and he's never stopped improving his skills and his knowledge. It's rare that after a game you say, 'Simon wasn't good on the ice today.' He always plays as if he has something to prove."
Indeed, the consensus is that Gagne is a rare find, a baby-faced kid who is not at all childlike once he hits the ice. His skills, far more advanced than his years, amaze his teammates, and even more impressive is his poise.
When he scored two goals in a benefit game against the Phantoms, most pooh-poohed the accomplishment, saying he was just going up against AHLers and it wasn't a true test of his NHL abilities. So Gagne went out and scored two more against the Devils.
"He's a guy with a lot of talent, but he has both feet on the ground," said Flyers winger Mikael Renberg. "He's going to do great in this league. I think when you're in your first year, everything you do, every game is a bonus, and that seems to be his attitude."
When Gagne was drafted 22nd overall a year ago, Flyers general manager Bob Clarke believed he was two years away from the NHL. Even Gagne didn't think he'd be ready so quickly.
"When I started, I thought, 'I'm 19 years old, I'll go back to juniors,' " he said. "I knew I had a chance, but it wasn't really a chance. I didn't think so, at least."
Instead, the Flyers were ready to move Rod Brind'Amour to the wing just to make room for Gagne.
Now, with Brind'Amour out because of a foot injury, Clarke has a surprising peace of mind about his second line. Gagne was the perfect complement to Renberg and Mark Recchi during the preseason. The trio has been an effective scoring line with the speed to hogtie indecisive defenders.
"He does things a 19-year-old really shouldn't be able to do," Recchi said, shaking his head in wonder at his linemate. "He's very intelligent on the ice, he skates very well. He gives and goes very well. A lot of times you'll find your younger kids, your juniors who dominate, tend to hold onto the puck too long. He's very, very good at knowing when to pass it, when to hold onto it. He fits right in."
Well, sort of. Gagne is technically a kid among men. He is still a little wide-eyed at this whole NHL thing, and marvels that he's now sharing ice time with Eric Lindros and John LeClair, two guys who last year were nothing more than television images to him.
And while most of his teammates head home to their wives and children, Gagne goes back to the suburban New Jersey hotel room that he shares with Phantoms defenseman Francis Lessard.
Sure, he could look for housing. He has, after all, made the Flyers' roster, but Gagne isn't about to jinx himself.
"I don't know how long I'll stay [at the hotel]," he said. "Until the team tells me I should go find a place, I guess."
So he and Lessard sit in their hotel room with a heavy dose of television. They don't have a car, so exploring is out. They aren't 21, so nightclubs are a no-no. They're just beginning to improve their English, so movies would be a bit tough.
That leaves hockey.
And that's just fine for Gagne. He's in no rush to cloud his life with anything else right now. His family - mom, dad, grandmother, girlfriend, girlfriend's family - will be on hand for his NHL debut on Saturday night. After that, it's back to his one-dimensional world. Practice and games, games and practice.
Which might just be the best way to bring along a young superstar-to-be.
"I know the game is harder when the season starts," Gagne said, "but I think I can play here.*"
The Hockey News, VOL. 53 No. 3 (By Gordie Sutherland) -- September 24, 1999
Speedy centre Simon Gagne wants to play in the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers this season, but he wouldn't mind returning to the Quebec Remparts, either.
" I won't be disappointed if I come back to junior because I think we can have a good team with the Quebec Remparts," said the 19-year-old, who is from Quebec City. " We have a good chance to go to the Memorial Cup and to win too."
Gagne isn't alone in his assesment
THN's [The Hockey News] panel of major junior experts-including senior editor Brain Costello and correspondents Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post. Jim Creesman of the London Free Press and Gordie Sutherland of the Halifax Chornicle-Herald, rated the Remparts the No. 1 team in the Canadian Hockey League heading into the 1999-2000 season...
...Gagne is among the five first round NHL picks expected to be in Quebec's lineup, including goalie Maxime Ouellet and returning centre Eric Chouinard
Ouellet, hwo posted a 2.70 goals-against aberage last season, was the first QMJHL player selected in June's draft, going 22nd overall to Philadelphia.
Gagne led the Remparts lsat season with 120 points while Chouinard, a first round pick of the Montréal Canadiens in 1998, collected 109 points. Both players fired 50 goals.
The biggest concern for Quebec GM Raymond Bolduc is his stars may be good enough to stick in the NHL.
"We hope everyone is back," he said." It's going to be a little longer (wait) for Gagne and Chouinard, but I expect everyone will be back by the end of September."
Gagne is rated No. 5 centre on Philadelphia's depth chart behind Eric Lindros, Rod Brind'Amour, Daymond Langkow and Marc Bureau. There's a good chance he may start the season in Philadelphia, play a handful of games, then return to Quebec for his final year of junior eligibility.
That might be a similar scenario for Chouinard, who's rated No. 6 centre on Montréal's depth chart.
Bolduc hasn't made it a secret his team is aiming to win May's Memorial Cup in Halifax. When the Remparts lost their bid to host the 2000 tournament, Bolduc went to work to assemble a team capable of winning this year's league championship.
The trade that best signified Quebec's intentions came in June when Bolduc traded highly regarded prospect Antoin Vermette, a 17-year-old centre, to the Victoriaville Tigers for proven scorer Patrick Ganrdmaitre, a 20-year-old forward.
Then came July's European draft when Bolduc nabbed a pair of hulking defensemen in Slovakian Kristian Kudroc, 6-foot-6 and 229 pounds, and Russian Kiril Safronov, 6-f00t-2 and 196 pounds. The Phoenix Coyotes selected Safronov 19th overall while the New York Islanders took Kudroc 28th overall at the entry drafte in June. It's unlikely that either can make the immediate jump to the NHL at 18.
With those two joining Colorado Avalanche prospect Martin Grenier, who is 6-foot-5 and 231 pounds, Quebec surely boasts the biggest blueline brigade in the CHL.
And they're skilled too.
"We have the best defense in our league and probably the best offense," Boldoc said.
"We want to win our league first and our goal is the Memorial Cup. We'll trade another couple of players for two good wingers to have the best team in Canada."
The Center has been asked to shift while the Flyers try to decide whether to keep Simon Gagne this season.
Philadelphia Inquirer (By Tim Panaccio) -- September 23, 1999
Terry Murray did it.
Wayne Cashman did it.
Even Roger Neilson has done it.
Each Flyer coach has moved Rod Brind'Amour from center to wing when a need arose.
"I could name 15 players they brought in and kind of pushed me over and it ends up me going back," Brind'Amour laughed yesterday.
This time, he might not end up back at center quite so quickly.
Yesterday, Neilson asked the Flyers' No. 2 center if he wouldn't mind staying on wing for the forseeable future until the team decides whether junior phenom Simon Gagne is ready for the NHL.
This experiment could last a while, too, because it is now expected that Gagne will remain with the Flyers for at least the beginning of the regular season before Bob Clarke and Neilson decide if he returns to his junior club, the Quebec Remparts.
Gagne had two goals and four points in the Flyers' game against the Phantoms on Tuesday. His play with Mark Recchi seems to improve every game; the chemistry between them has sometimes been explosive.
"We told him [Brind'Amour] the kid looked pretty good so far and if he were to make the team, it might be better for us to have him on wing," Neilson said, advising Brind'Amour that this could last into the regular season.
With Keith Jones still nursing an injury to his left quad muscle and left knee, Brind'Amour has been the right wing on Eric Lindros' line with John LeClair. Gagne is centering Recchi and Mikael Renberg.
Brind'Amour said he had no problem if the move benefits the team. He said he used to get upset about being moved off center, but he's now used to these occasional positional switches.
"It seem this is the way it always is," Brind'Amour said. "I have never really had a line more than a couple of weeks it seems, for whatever reason. Now it is easier to accept because it's happened so many times, whereas in the past, it's all new and you want to be left alone as opposed to be moving around."
In the first week of training camp in Peterborough, Ontario, Clarke said that if Gagne were to make the team his talents would be wasted unless he played on a scoring line, meaning the first or second unit. And Gagne won't bump Lindros.
"It's pretty obvious, if they say first or second, who's it going to be?" Brind'Amour said, laughing. "It's been like that every year."
Brind'Amour said it was more important to him that he get significant ice time than what position he was playing.
Neilson said this week that the Flyers will take a different approach to line combinations this season. There will be more "pairs" than trios. Lindros and LeClair are the first pair, Gagne and Recchi are the second pair, and Daymond Langkow and Valeri Zelepukin are the third pair.
"I think we'll find out this year that our lines will be more in twos," Neilson said. "Roddy can switch anywhere depending upon the situation."
Lindros said playing with Brind'Amour gives the Flyers an advantage on certain faceoffs.
"He can take faceoff and the way they got it structured with the markings on the ice, with having to pull back on your forehand, it's a serious advantage to do it on your backhand," Lindros said. "Having a lefthanded shot in there to take those draws in key situations in the game when our line is out there, it's a big factor."
As a lefthanded shot, Brind'Amour prefers playing left wing. For now, however, he's on the right side.
"The left side is a little more natural," Brind'Amour said, noting that with practice he'll get more comfortable on right wing.
Brind'Amour isn't the only odd man out. Jones says he'll be ready by next week. All indications are he won't be on Lindros' top line.
"If you're thinking that you should be somewhere that you're not, then you're not going to be able to perform as well as you can," Jones said. "I'm in a situation in my career that I want to do what is best for the team. If that means a lesser role on the ice, then so be it.&qupt;
"I always seem to head back up to one of the top two lines eventually, so I have been in that situation before and it always seems to work out."
Gagne's eligibility. League spokesman Gary Meagher said that at age 19, Gagne has four years or 160 NHL games during which he is exempt from the waiver draft and doesn't have to be protected. If he plays 10 games and returns to juniors, he still has a four-year exemption. If he plays 11 or more games this season, Gagne automatically loses one year of waiver draft exemption, giving him just three years of protection. Regardless of how many games Gagne plays, if the Flyers send him back, Gagne can't be recalled from juniors until his team has been eliminated from the playoffs.
Philadelphia Inquirer (By Tim Panaccio) -- September 22, 1999
They came to honor a fallen teammate.
They left with perhaps the sense that a new teammate could be among their ranks this season.
For the Flyers, the much-anticipated return of the formerly injured Eric Lindros and John LeClair was overshadowed last night by a stellar performance by junior center Simon Gagne and his linemates, Mikael Renberg and Mark Recchi. They were simply unstoppable with 10 points and figured in four goals, two by Gagne, in a 6-1 win over the Phantoms, their AHL affiliate, at the First Union Spectrum.
OK, the Phantoms are the Flyers' farm club, but there is simply no denying that this is a dynamic line with Gagne at center. With each game, it's becoming harder for the Flyers to think about sending the 19-year-old back to junior hockey.
"Even though it's [the Phantoms], I don't think it takes a whole lot away from Rex and Gagne," LeClair said. "They dominated. They were everywhere. They were terrific."
Before the game, there was an emotional ceremony honoring defenseman Dmitri Tertyshny, who was killed in a boating accident in July. His wife, Polina, and his parents, Valery and Tatyana Tertyshny, accepted the crowd's standing ovation for the defenseman. The net proceeds from last night's game went to Polina and her unborn son.
Once play began, Gagne's line was in the spotlight.
"With the addition of Renberg, there is a tremendous amount of speed on our line, and you saw we got down real low and were coming out of the corners," Recchi said.
What if Gagne sticks? Would Recchi mind being his winger on the second line?
"That's fine," Recchi replied. "He's a great person, a great hockey player, and he's fun to play with."
Gagne, who has had his chances in the preseason, flubbed his first attempt on net, on a Renberg pass. That was pretty much the kind of camp he had had - lots of chances, but nothing to show for them except fine playmaking and set-ups. All that changed after the flubbed shot. Phantoms goalie Neil Little, who made a number of good saves during the period and a half he played, made a tough stop on Dan McGillis' point drive, but the rebound went to Renberg near the net. Amid a pileup, Gagne dug out the puck and flipped it over Little to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead at 12 minutes, 54 seconds of the first period.
Five minutes later, Gagne notched his second goal, after initiating the play. He directed the puck through traffic onto Recchi's stick, and the puck went into the left corner. One of the things the Flyers coaches like about Gagne is his instinct. He will not dig for pucks. He's isn't physical enough to do that now. But the 6-foot, 175-pound Quebec junior star knows how to get open and frequently hovers through the slot. When Renberg went to dig the puck out, Gagne immediately circled around the net to Little's left, took Renberg's pass, and flipped another quick wrist shot over the goalie for a 2-0 lead.
"We practiced some this week, and we make a good line," Gagne said. "It helps to have a lot of speed.. . . Sometimes you have a lot of chances to score, and tonight I had two good chances. I worked well with my linemates."
His line set up a third goal at 7:31 of the second period. Gagne sent another nice pass to Recchi, who gently slid the puck back into the slot to Karl Dykhuis, who in turn blasted a shot past Little. The point was Gagne's third of the night.
Gagne picked up his fourth near the end of the period, after Jean-Marc Pelletier had replaced Little and John Vanbiesbrouck had replaced Brian Boucher, who played another strong game in net.
"Gagne looks very good," Flyers coach Roger Neilson said. "He's smart in his own end. We've got six games left to see more of him."
With Recchi and Renberg working the puck down low, Gagne added an assist on Renberg's second-period goal to make it 4-1.
"It's just an exhibition," Gagne said. "I have to prove I can work with those guys."
Lost in all the magic was the fact that Sean O'Brien's line, which also consisted of Jason Zent and Chris Albert, shut down the line of Lindros, who was joined by LeClair and Rod Brind'Amour. Of course, Lindros hasn't played since April 1, and this was Lindros' and LeClair's first preseason game.
"The puck was a little square in the first period," Lindros joked. "As the game went on, I felt better and better."
The rust showed for both Lindros and LeClair. Of course, that wasn't a problem for Gagne's line.
"That whole line cycled the puck well," Lindros said. "They've got a little chemistry going, which is great to see."
Philadelphia Daily News (By Les Bowen) -- September 22, 1999
... The game, meanwhile, had kind of a strange feel to it, as Brind'Amour noted. Under any other circumstance, the Phantoms might have come out snarling, wanting to prove a thing or two to their better-paid brethren. But given the point of the evening, that seemed inappropriate.
As Lindros later acknowledged, "It wasn't a real physical game; the only hit was when I didn't see Jimmy [Montgomery] in the corner."
Lindros turned to chase the puck and sent the diminutive Phantoms veteran sprawling. On the only penalty whistled, Roman Vopat accidentally high-sticked Martin Cerven, then quickly bent over the fallen Phantom to make sure he was OK.
Two things were apparent, as the Flyers gear up for a stretch of six preseason games in six nights that starts tomorrow at the Rangers.
First, Lindros and LeClair, who played last night with Brind'Amour, have some rust to scrape away.
&auot;The puck was pretty square in the first period," Lindros said.
Second, 19-year-old Simon Gagne certainly could play in the American Hockey League, if he met the age requirement of 20. Gagne scored the game's first two goals and assisted on two others. His line, with Mark Recchi and Mikael Renberg on the wings, showed the Phantoms the kind of speed and skill they don't often encounter in Hershey or Rochester.
LeClair, asked if he'd watched the Gagne line much, said: "You couldn't help but watch 'em. They were everywhere."
Recchi had three assists, Renberg a goal and two assists, along with an impressive nine shots on net. Renberg had missed the first two games of the preseason with a sore back, so it was the first outing for what could be the Flyers' new second line.
"I think we make a pretty good line," said Gagne, who was the Flyers' first-round draft pick in 1998.
"There's a tremendous amount of speed on our line," said Recchi, who called Gagne "a really good person and a great hockey player."
It is beginning to sound as if the junior hockey Quebec Remparts shouldn't count on getting Gagne back this fall.
Found from Articles dated September 18, 1999
According to a Daily News Article, the Flyers' Management had hoped to use the game against the Washington Capitals game, as well as several subsequent ones to get a good read on Eaton and on 19-year-old centerman Simon Gagne...the rookie skaters given the best chance of making the team going into camp....Roger Neilson called the Capitals-Flyers game a " a fairly spirited preseason game" in which "Gagne handled himself well." Gagne was smooth and impressive, even though he didn't figure in the scoring
According to a Inquirer Article, Simon Gagne centered a line with multiple wingers, with the only constant being Mark Recchi, as in training camp...the two played very well together during the Capitals-Flyers game. . .
By Tim Panaccio -- September 12, 1999
PETERBOROUGH, Ontario - Three days into Flyers training camp, all of Peterborough - at least those who watched at Peterborough Memorial Centre yesterday - got to see the real Simon Gagné.
The one with the swift, jaguar-like moves. The one who carries the puck quickly and weaves up the ice. The one who sees the bigger picture, finds his open wingers, and comes up with three assists and a goal, as he did in yesterday's intrasquad scrimmage.
This is the Gagné the Flyers want to judge in the preseason, which begins Thursday against Washington at the First Union Center.
"We won't know if he can play [against NHL players] until we see him in some preseason games," general manager Bob Clarke said yesterday.
Clarke is sticking to his pre-camp assertion that unless Gagné is going to get quality minutes on a decent line with some scoring wingers, the 19-year-old will go back to his junior club, Quebec.
"It would be wasting his talents if we did not play him with people who can score," Clarke said.
Gagné, the Flyers' first-round draft pick in 1998, was impressive yesterday. He moved away from hits nicely, the way players like Jaromir Jagr move with the puck. And he saw the ice and the play ahead of him.
"I played with some confidence," said Gagné, who conceded that he was both nervous and intimidated on the first day of camp. "To come here and see [Mark] Recchi and [Rod] Brind'Amour and [Eric] Desjardins, just to see them is pretty tough because we play against junior guys all year and now we face them. I felt a little nervous."
Gagné did what he does best - set up other people and score.
"My vision is a big asset for me," Gagné said. "I have to work with this asset of my play. I think my speed on the ice is good, too. I like to play the rush when I can."
Simon Nolet, who scouted Gagné in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, says he is constantly impressed by Gagné.
"He is always one level ahead of everyone else wherever he has played," Nolet said. "The big difference with him is that he has always risen to the level of the opposition. His play goes to the higher plane."
Gagne played well at the World Juniors last year, and Nolet believes it gave him confidence for his season in the junior league, where he scored 50 goals.
But is he ready for the NHL? The intrasquad games that Flyers coach Roger Neilson has put together during the first week of camp involve a blend of NHL and AHL players and juniors who will soon turn 19. That's a far cry from the veteran-laden NHL clubs Gagné would see every night from October through April.
"Is he ready?" Nolet asked. "I think he is pretty close. I don't know what would be best for him. A guy with his talent, you don't want him playing on the fourth line, you want him on the ice. If you're not going to play him, send him back to juniors."
The center spot is loaded with Eric Lindros, Brind'Amour, Daymond Langkow and Marc Bureau. All indications are that Gagné won't unseat Brind'Amour or even Langkow right now, which means he's likely headed back to juniors. But what if Lindros' back injury lingers? Lindros will not play today because his back is still sore, Neilson said.
Gagné hedged when asked whether he would be content to make the club as a fourth-line player. He is still uncertain whether he is ready for the NHL, he says.
"I want to find for myself whether I can play with these guys," Gagne said.
That test will come soon enough.
The Simon Gagné Website -- September 4, 1999
Simon Gagné will be participating in the Philadelphia Flyers training camp alongside other Flyers prior to the Pre-Season. It will be taking place at the Peterborough Memorial Centre in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, between September 8-13.
Morning and Afternoon scrimages start on the 9th and go on until the 12th, at 9:00AM and 1:00PM respectively. On the 13th, there will be an inter-squad scrimage @ 6:00PM and will require a ticket. The other scrimages are assumeably free.
So if you're in the the Peterborough-area and want to see some NHL hockey before the season starts, swing by the Peterborough Memorial Centre.