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London teammates Gagner, Kane to face each other in Top Prospects game

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Canadian Press
Jan 16, 2007, 5:34 PM EST

QUEBEC (CP) - Sam Gagner and Patrick Kane are teammates on the London Knights but will be playing against each other for the second time in less than a month at the Top Prospects game Wednesday.

Gagner, a member of Canada's gold medal team at the world junior championships two weeks ago, will play for the Michel Bergeron/Pat Burns team in the Canadian Hockey League showcase (7 p.m. ET).

Kane, who helped the United States to a bronze medal, will play for the Scotty Bowman/Jacques Demers squad as 40 of the best prospects for the NHL draft in June suit up for an exhibition game at the Pepsi Colisee.

"We were joking that we'd fight each other," Kane said Tuesday. "It was just joking, but it will be fun.

"We've both had a great year so far."

Gagner, a centre, was the third-rated North American skater in rankings released last week by NHL Central Scouting. Kane was fourth.

"It was awesome to play against him," Gagner said of Kane. "I get to see him every day so I know how skilled he is.

"Playing against him was fun. He impressed a lot of people, just like he does in London."

The top-ranked skater, Angelo Esposito of the Quebec Remparts, missed a series of timed drills before NHL scouts Tuesday morning with a cold and sore throat, but is expected to be ready for the game. A skills competition was scheduled for later Tuesday.

A handful of others missed out either because their flights were delayed by Monday's storm in Toronto or because their equipment didn't arrive on time.

Gagner and Kane, along with Belarus winger Sergei Kostitsyn, are offensive motors on the Knights, currently second overall in the Ontario Hockey League behind the Barrie Colts.

Kane is third in league scoring with 28 goals and 75 points while Gagner is fourth with 71 points, including 21 goals, even though both missed as many as eight league games while in Sweden at the world junior tournament.

Gagner is on the rebound from a major disappointment last summer, when he reportedly had a lacklustre camp and was a surprise cut from Canada's under-18 team.

"I took that hard," Gagner said. "But life goes on.

"I had a month before the season to get prepared and I went in with a clear mindset. I wanted to do whatever I could to prove myself. I got a chance to play with skilled players and got a lot of ice time right off the bat."

And when he went to camp for the world junior team, he was the only 17-year-old to make a squad that is comprised mostly of 19-year-olds. Esposito was cut.

"Maybe what happened in the summer helped me to push myself that much more," he said. "Going to camp with a clear mind and being really positive helped out the second time around.

"And I had a lot more experience of how to handle things."

Gagner wasn't a huge factor in Canada's triumph, but he called it a great experience. He also has two years of eligibility left for the tournament, if he doesn't crack an NHL lineup next season.

Kane, a Buffalo, N.Y., native, played on one of the Americans' top lines, saw plenty of ice time and led his team with five goals.

"I definitely learned a lot from it," said Kane. "I played against the best competition in a three-year radius, so I'm glad I went through it."

Both may have the new NHL partly to thank for their high rankings, as size seems to be less of a factor than speed and skill these days.

Gagner is five foot 11 and 190 pounds, while Kane is listed at 5-10 and 170 pounds.

"It's helped my stock a lot," said Kane. "I'm more of a flow and go guy, where it used to be clutch and grab and you had to battle through.

"It's more open now and that helps me."

Gagner is the son of Dave Gagner, who scored 318 goals in 15 NHL seasons and who is now assistant coach of the Knights under head coach Dale Hunter.

"My dad's done a good job of not putting too much pressure on me," said Gagner, who was born in Minneapolis where his father played. "He stresses how hard the NHL guys work.

"Growing up watching them play and getting to meet some of them was really beneficial to me. I got to see how humble they are for how good of hockey players they are and I think that's helped me remain humble."

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