Who Will Step Up to Fill Evander Kane’s Void?
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
By Jason Gregor2 months ago
Edmonton checked off many boxes that needed to be filled during Tuesday’s victory in Tampa Bay.
Good game from Jack Campbell. Check.
Solid penalty killing. Check.
Get depth scoring. Check.
Solid penalty killing. Check.
Get depth scoring. Check.
But the scary wrist injury to Evander Kane overshadowed all of it.
Warren Foegele scored his first goal of the season — a shorthanded blast no less — and he played his best game of the season. The Oilers will need him and others to elevate their play during Kane’s absence. Kane suffered a deep cut on his left wrist when Patrick Maroon accidentally skated over it. Kane was transported to the hospital last night and underwent surgery to repair his wrist. He is out indefinitely. Kane posted an update this morning. There is no timeline for his return, but luckily it doesn’t sound like there is long-term damage. However, based on similar injuries I’d expect him to be out a few months at least.
Credit to the Oilers’ medical staff, and Tampa Bay’s for acting swiftly. Their actions, along with Kane’s awareness when he saw the cut and skated quickly to the bench while applying pressure, might have saved further damage.
The good news is that Kane is okay. The bad news for the Oilers is he will be out the lineup for an extended period of time. His unique skill set won’t be replaced by one player. I was compiling an article about Kane and Zach Hyman, and how the Oilers haven’t had this blend of skill, grit, and toughness in two wingers since Bill Guerin and Ryan Smyth were wingers between 1997-2001.
Guerin was acquired in January 1998 and played the final 40 games. He remained with Edmonton for the next two full seasons, before being traded to Boston on November 15th, 2000. In his 211 games with the Oilers Guerin scored 79 goals and 161 points while adding 354 penalty minutes. He was the skilled physical forward like Kane, while Smyth was the relentless, dogged winger with skill like Hyman. Guerin and Smyth were second and third in scoring on the Oilers in that time, behind only Doug Weight.
Fast forward to today and the Oilers finally have two rugged, skilled wingers who complement their elite centers in Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. But losing Kane creates a major hole. The conversations I had with Kane, Hyman and Ken Holland about their style of play were focused on what a benefit it was having both on the team, but Kane’s absence will only highlight it more.
“He’s very important to our team,” said Holland over the phone last week. “He can score, but he plays with an edge. If anybody wants to go after Connor [McDavid] or Leon [Draisaitl] when he’s on the ice, or even during the game, you’re probably going to get a reaction out of him. He brings a lot of different dimensions to our team, obviously the ability to score, he can play on the power play but I also think, which is very important and probably not talked about enough, is that he provides great value in a salary cap world. It is hard to address every need, and he brings a lot of different positives to our team. Not many players have his combination of smarts, speed, skill, and toughness,” Holland continued.
Since arriving in Edmonton last January, Kane has given the Oilers the top-line winger they’ve missed. He scored 27 goals and 52 points in 57 regular season games. He added 13 goals and 17 points in 15 playoff games.
But it isn’t just the points the Oilers will miss. Kane led the Oilers in hits with 186. Darnell Nurse was next with 121, followed by Foegele (97) and Kailer Yamamoto (87). And Kane also intimidates. He neutered Matthew Tkachuk in games 2-5 of the in the Pacific Division Final. Jay Woodcroft matched up Kane against Tkachuk as much as he could and Tkachuk became a non-factor.
I asked Kane about the physical and fighting side of his game.
“I don’t think about or worry about that changing. It’s just who I am and the type of player that I am,” said Kane prior to the road trip. “I think fighting is a really important part of the game. As much as it may be down, I think there are times where it’s needed, and it can solve some issues and some problems when the game is getting out of hand. You look at the playoffs, there are very few fights in the playoffs, but there are other ways to intimidate, get under people’s skin and try to use those types of different attributes to your advantage to just, maybe impose a seed of doubt in another player’s mind throughout the course of a series.”
Zach Hyman spoke about what he admired about Kane’s play.
“He’s big, strong, physical, can score, there is a lot to like about what he brings to the table,” said Hyman. “Even if he’s not scoring, he’s bringing that physical edge. It’s very hard to find a guy who has that combination of skill and grit; they don’t really make them like that anymore. His presence and skill are a big help for our group.”
Edmonton doesn’t have a forward to replace those attributes. Foegele, Yamamoto, Dylan Holloway, and Jesse Puljujarvi will all need to elevate their play in different ways. They can all be physical. Kane was working with Puljujarvi and encouraging him to use his massive frame to his advantage. We’ve seen Puljujarvi lean on guys more and deliver a few hard body checks. He’ll need to continue that in Kane’s absence. Holloway is a rookie, but he’s thick, is a great skater and should get more ice time with Kane out. Foegele played his best game of the season last night, and they will need him to be finish checks and be aggressive on the forecheck. None of them are as mean or as tough as Kane, but as a group maybe they can collectively fill Kane’s physical void.
They, along with Zach Hyman, will need to fill the offensive void. Hyman has been very good offensively already with 6-10-16 in 14 games, after setting a career-high with 27 goals and 54 points last year. He’s been an excellent free agent signing.
“We scouted him a lot and knew he was a very, very competitive player on the ice, but I think that being around him every day he is more competitive than we had even thought,” said Holland. “I also think off of the ice, he’s one of the nicest people you will meet. He’s got a great respect for everybody, the game, for the training staff… he’s always coming to work every day to the rink with a positive attitude. And it’s hard to maintain that attitude through good times and through bad times, but he’s a constant positive presence. You know what you’re going to get every day. He comes and he gives you incredible effort and determination; he goes to the hard areas every day. I think it’s amazing how many one-on-one battles for the puck he wins. That speaks to his determination. He certainly has good hands, but he’s a fierce competitor, he goes to the hard areas. Having him and Kane certainly has helped us to properly build a very good top six along with [Ryan] Nugent-Hopkins, Leon [Draisaitl] and Connor [McDavid] and the growth and development of [Kailer] Yamamoto and [Jesse] Puljujarvi.”
I’m not sure you can expect much more offensively from Hyman in Kane’s absence. It will have to come from one of Puljujarvi, Holloway or Yamamoto. One of them will get a chance to fill Kane’s spot on the power play. Likely Puljujarvi since he was there last year prior to Kane’s arrival.
Puljujarvi’s effort is rarely questioned. He works hard, but he simply doesn’t have the same puck skills and shooting ability as Kane. I don’t expect him to produce like Kane, but he will need more than 1-1-2 in his next 14 games. Same with Yamamoto (0-3-3), Foegele (1-1-2) and Holloway (0-2-2 in fewer minutes). At least two of them need to find some offensive punch. Ideally all of them will contribute more with Kane sidelined.
Oct 24, 2022; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The Edmonton Oilers celebrate a goal scored by forward Evander Kane (91) during the second period against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Kane is a true power forward. I think Hyman is a 2000-version of a power forward. Strong, skilled, and relentless, but without the fighting aspect. You don’t need the latter as much in today’s game. Kane has become a big fan of Hyman’s overall play after skating beside him for over 70 games.
“His strength on the puck really impresses me,” said Kane. “As a big strong guy, myself I wonder, why can’t guys move him off of the puck or how is he able to hang onto it down low or keep it on his stick with D-men all over him and come out of scrums and piles with the puck. But after playing with him and practicing with him, you have a great appreciation for his strength and his sturdiness on the puck. I think that is one of the things that he’s known for, but you don’t really get a true appreciation or impression until you are on the ice with him regularly.”
Hyman kills penalties, is the net front on the power play and plays top-six minutes at even strength. He’s incredibly versatile and reminds me a lot of Smyth. Except, last week, Smyth was quick to point out Hyman skates better. Hyman’s motor always revs high. He rarely takes a shift off. He’s in every battle, and that relentless effort makes him a great role model for the young Oilers forwards.
I asked Holland about how much Holloway, and even Puljujarvi and Yamamoto can benefit from watching how Kane and Hyman play.
“I’m a big believer in role models,” said Holland. “I really think Mike Smith had a positive effect on Stu Skinner as an example. I know Igor Larinov had a real positive affect on Pavel Datsyuk, and Nick Lindstrom on Niklas Kronwall. So, absolutely I think that helps and when people talk about culture, I think that creates it.
“For me culture is really good people, you have really good people who do it right every day, they have a great respect for how hard it is to be good, and they have a real commitment on the and off the ice. I think that’s why guys like Connor and Leon and Darnell Nurse, Hyman and Kane are great for a young player like Dylan Holloway. He’s watching really good pros and how they go about their business on an everyday basis. On the ice, helping to prepare for games, they get to go out for dinners with them on the road, he sits in the locker room. When you’re around that environment you start to understand how they train in the offseason, so that’s what culture is. I watched the growth of our team grow in leaps and bounds over the last three years and that’s a credit to the leadership of our team that they do it right.
“They have a passion for the game. They are incredibly committed. They are determined for team success and that’s a really good environment for the young guys like [Xavier] Bourgault, [Philip] Broberg, Holloway, Skinner and still Yamamoto and Puljujarvi and others. Certainly, the coaching staff is important and how they have everything structured, but it is the people you’re sitting next to in the locker room who are going to have the greatest impact in a young player’s career. And I think we have lots of really great people, we have a room full of really good people who really care. I think that it’s a really good environment for Holloway’s development and growth. Now, you’ve also got to play. There’s a multifaceted thing, but certainly being around those people is going to have a real positive impact on his career,” said Holland.
His last comment about “you need to play,” is accurate and with Kane’s injury Holloway should become a regular in the top nine. Will Jay Woodcroft deploy Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Hyman, Puljuajarvi, and Yamamoto as his top-six wingers and play Holloway with Ryan McLeod and Foegele? We’ll see. Maybe he will keep Hyman on the right side and bump Holloway into the top six. We will find out at the morning skate tomorrow.
Regardless of who gets promoted and what the line combinations are, the Oilers will miss Kane’s scoring, his physicality and his intimation.
Players always want more opportunities and responsibilities, so who among Puljujarvi, Foegele, Yamamoto, and Holloway will step up and meet the challenge?
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