Originally created 04/14/02

Flyers forward excels



VOORHEES, N.J. -- Simon Gagne's jersey already is retired, he's won an Olympic gold medal, and he's been an NHL All-Star.

All that, and the low-key, high-scoring forward for the Philadelphia Flyers has yet to celebrate his sixth birthday.

Well, sort of.

Gagne was born Feb. 29, 1980, and has had only five official leap-year birthdays, but he has accomplished plenty in a still-developing career. Out of the shadows of teammates John LeClair, Jeremy Roenick, and Keith Primeau, the left wing has become a force of his own.

"I feel more comfortable right now," said Gagne, the Flyers' leading goal scorer. "I don't consider myself like a rookie anymore."

This season, Gagne's third in the NHL, has been his best.

"The first year, I knew what I could do," said Gagne, the 22nd pick in the 1998 draft. "Last year, I started to score more goals and do more stuff on the ice. Maybe right there, I said to myself that maybe I could be a guy that could make a difference."

That was his goal all along.

Gagne's father, Pierre, attended training camp in 1967 with the Quebec Aces - then a Flyers affiliate - and grandfather, Roger, spent four seasons in the American Hockey League. His lone brother already has stopped playing.

This season started well, when Gagne's former junior league team, the Quebec Remparts, retired the No. 12 he still wears. In two seasons with Quebec, Gagne had 80 goals and 109 assists.

"When you play in junior, you never think your number is going to be retired," he said. "It's amazing, No. 12 is being hung from the roof of Le Colisse next to Guy Lafleur's."

Lafleur, an NHL Hall-of-Famer, is the only other player so honored by the Remparts.

After scoring twice in his first NHL All-Star appearance last season, Gagne became the youngest player on Canada's Olympic team.

"I think he's going to get better as he goes on, but I don't think a player should be limited because of age," Flyers general manager Bob Clarke said.

Gagne had one Olympic goal and three assists, including one in Canada's gold-medal victory over the United States.

"I think it's a positive benefit for a young player just to hang around with the veteran players," said Clarke, who never saw Gagne play before drafting him. "This kid found out he was as good as them."

In the first four games after the Olympics, Gagne had six goals and an assist.

Primeau was immediately impressed after coming to Philadelphia in Gagne's rookie season.

"I said, 'This kid's got 'star' written all over him.' We all knew it, it was only a matter of him recognizing it," Primeau said. "With the Olympic appearance and the success he had there, he's really beginning to see he is a star player in this league."

Heading into the weekend's final two games of the regular season, Gagne had 33 goals and 33 assists.

"Before, I was all the time questioning where I have to put myself compared to everybody around the league. Now I know I could be with the big guys," he said.

At the Flyers' practice rink, Gagne sits across the dressing room from Roenick, his outspoken linemate and seven-time All-Star. The difference in their personalities is much wider.

"He has no ego involved here, where you have to worry about him thinking in the wrong direction as far as what we expect him to be bringing to the hockey team," Flyers coach Bill Barber said.

Teammates such as LeClair, Mark Recchi and Adam Oates - who own a total of 17 All-Star appearances - usually draw more attention than Gagne, and that's fine with him.

"You need a different style in hockey," Gagne said. "I'm not going to be the kind of guy to say something in the room. I do my leadership on the ice."

Gagne made the NHL all-rookie team in 1999-00, breaking in with 20 goals and 28 assists. He followed that up with 27 goals and 32 assists last season, in which he was limited to 69 games because of a shoulder separation.

"As long as he's willing to continue to work like he has, he's going to be a star," Clarke said.

Eric Lindros, now with the New York Rangers, has seen Gagne quietly grow in strength and speed from the time they were teammates in Philadelphia during Gagne's rookie season to when they reunited on Team Canada in Salt Lake City.

"You don't have to be vocal to score goals," Lindros said.

Gagne has the knack for scoring game-winning goals, doing it seven times last season and seven more this season. He also scored the clincher in his first career playoff game and in last year's All-Star contest.

"He's a great, young, upcoming star player," Barber said. "I don't put numbers on any of our players as far as goals or production goes. It's what he brings to the hockey team game in and game out which is far more important."