Looking back on the very first entry in the series, I went over a list of criteria that I was using to measure those who made the list. I think it’s a good time to revisit one of those when looking at the next entrant on my “Top 19” list. Tenure. The amount of time a player sent with the franchise is important. It allows fans to get to the player over four or in some cases, five years with the organization. The next player spent all five of his junior career years with the Thunderbirds. Next, at #10 is Aaron Gagnon.
Gagnon, of Armstrong, British Columbia technically made his debut in the 2001-2002, getting his first taste of Western Hockey League action at the age of 15. Gagnon suited up in two games for the Thunderbirds. While he did not get his name on the score sheet during his limited action, he did finish with a plus two. Over the course of his five-year career, his attention to detail in all three zones would be cornerstones of his game.
2002-2003 was Aaron’s true rookie season. Gagnon produced a modest 18 points on the year (5G, 13A). But what was most impressive about his game, was his ability to play effectively up and down the lineup. Whether he was asked to play first line minutes, or shut down oppositions top lines on the fourth line, he accepted whatever role he was asked to play, and excelled doing it.
Gagnon’s 2003-2004 season started slowly as he was sidelined for the first nine games with a broken wrist. However, he returned to the Seattle lineup much earlier than expected and reached career highs in points, and ended up being the fourth leading goal scorer on the roster, compiling 21 goals and adding 15 assists for 36 points. Gagnon had the opportunity to represent team Canada at that years U18’s and provided three assists in seven games played. Gagnon was selected in the 8th round of the 2004 NHL entry draft, 240th overall by the Phoenix Coyotes.
Gagnon was ready to explode offensively by his third full season in Seattle. This was also the only season Gagnon played a full 72-game season. Gagnon, after posting a career high 36 points in 2004, obliterated that by scoring 31 times and adding 34 assists for 65 points. He continued his great two-way play and emerged as a premier penalty killer in the WHL as well as being Seattle’s top face off man. In 12 playoff games, he chipped in nine points (4G, 5A). His follow-up to his breakout season was hampered by injury. He only appeared in 62 games in 2005-2006 and produced 20 less points. He ended up tallying 24 goals and 21 assists for 45 total points. Gagnon then provided eight more points in seven playoff games. Luckily for Gagnon, he saw one more season in the WHL, and it was one to remember.
Coming off a disappointing season, Gagnon seemed poised to deliver in his last season with Seattle. He was named team captain and led by example. Gagnon only appeared in 59 games in the 2006-2007 season but enjoyed his best season in the league. Gagnon led the Thunderbirds in goal scoring and overall points with 42 goals and 38 assists for 80 points. He appeared in 11 more playoff games and added eight points (6G, 2A). Gagnon was never signed by the Coyotes, making him a free agent. After his breakout year, he was signed to a three-year entry level contract by the Dallas Stars where he spent the next four seasons. Since then, he has bounced around the AHL, NHL, SHL, Liiga and NLA.
Gagnon was playing professionally overseas as recently as last season and is under contract for the 2019-2020 season. His legacy with the Thunderbirds is unquestioned and his dedication to the game and the organization has kept him in the thoughts of Thunderbirds fans since he completed his major junior career ended.