This in from the Edmonton Oilers, winger Evander Kane is expected to miss three to four months. With Kane (and his cap hit) going on Long Term Injured Reserve, The Oilers have recalled forwards Mattias Janmark and Klim Kostin from Bakersfield of the American Hockey League.
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1. First off, the obvious; Kane’s injury was an extremely scary moment in Tuesday night’s game and all Oilers fans are wishing him the best. I was hoping his absence would be short, but not to be. He suffered a serious injury and it’s going to take him a substantial amount of time to recover. That said, he’ll now scheduled to be back a month before the playoffs, so he’ll have time to get in game shape for the most important run of this season.
No Oilers winger played more even strength minutes this year than Kane and when it comes to chipping in Grade A shots and making mistakes on Grade A shots against, he had the second best plus-minus of any winger on the team after only Zach Hyman, who is off to a blazing start.
2. Kane hasn’t been playing great hockey so far this year but he will be sorely missed. His arrival last season, along with Jay Woodcroft taking over as coach, was a turning point for the Oilers. The Oil went from a team that had to put Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl together at even strength in order to drive goal scoring to one that could rely on two lines, one led by McDavid, the other by Draisaitl, to mount solid attacking plays. Suddenly, between Kane, Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto, the Oilers had enough top-notch wingers to go around for both McDavid and Draisaitl on their own lines.
3. Under former coach Dave Tippett in 44 games last season, most of them without Kane in the line-up, Edmonton had 455 Grade A shots and gave up 442, +13.
But in 38 games this year and 14 last year, 52 in total, Woodcroft’s Oilers have had 588 Grade A shots while giving up just 466, +122.
That works out to 11.3 Grade A shots for and 9.0 against per game under Woodcroft, compared to 10.3 Grade A shots for per game under Tippett, 10.0 against. Much of this significant improvement, I’ll suggest, has come from having two high-functioning top lines.
The problem with the Oilers this year? Their PK has been killing them, giving up a far higher rate of Grade A shots and goals against than last year.
4. Kane has five goals and 13 points in 14 games for the Oilers this year. He’s played OK hockey, not great. But it won’t be easy to replace those points, nor will the Oilers find any kind of replacement for the toughness and swagger he brought to the line-up. Kane is an intimidating player, a force on the ice. That part of his game will be missed as much as anything.
5. When one player goes out it means more opportunity for others. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has looked strong and confident on a line with McDavid, so I expect we’ll see more of that. Jesse Puljujarvi had a fine game with McD and RNH vs Tampa so we’ll also see more of that in the short term. A second line built around Zach Hyman and Leon Draisaitl also makes sense. Given how brilliant both players are at protecting the puck, they should be able to mount long runs of successful o-zone puck possession. But who will go with those two? Kailer Yamamoto? Dylan Holloway? Warren Foegele? Ryan McLeod? The Oilers have these four obvious options, but with McLeod doing well at third line centre the best bet is likely to leave him there. Yamamoto has struggled in a top line role this year. It comes down to Foegele or Holloway, with one teamed up with Draisaitl, the other with McLeod. Of course, given how much modern lines tend to get blenderized in the modern NHL, I suspect we’ll see numerous combinations tried out.
6. On the Bakersfield farm team, the Oilers have a number of wingers (Xavier Bourgault, Carter Savoie, Raphael Lavoie) who might well be candidates to play with McDavid and Draisaitl one day, but not one of them is ready just now, either through injury or inexperience. Kostin and Janmark are energy players, fourth line guys. With their departure from the Bake, there’s now much more ice time to go around for the organization’s prospect forwards. The Oil have one more roster spot, which might go to Tyler Benson, who had a strong preseason and is now coming back from injury.
7. Could Kane’s cap hit be used to bring in another Top 6 forward, with Kane coming back just in time for the playoffs? Yes, those are the rules. Tampa Bay did it. It may well develop in that direction for the Oilers.