On Saturday night, the Edmonton Oilers walked into the Bell Centre to face a very depleted Montreal Canadiens team. The Oilers were on a three-game winning streak and looking to keep their momentum rolling after an absolutely horrendous stretch of games from December to mid-January. With the Hockey Night in Canada lights shining bright, the question on everyone’s mind was: how is Evander Kane‘s addition to the Edmonton Oilers depth going to look like?
Edmonton Oilers Depth Improved By New Additions
Just over 10 minutes into Saturday’s game, with the game tied 0-0, Kane carried the puck into the offensive zone. Once there, he quickly dished to Yamamoto, who then found a trailing Evan Bouchard at the point. Bouchard let one of his sneaky wrist-shots go and who was there to re-direct it home? None other than Kane.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 30, 2022
The goal may as well have been an exorcism for the team. Prior to it, the Oilers hadn’t scored first in a game for 11 straight contests, a franchise record. Finally, the Oilers had taken control of the game from the start and the floodgates immediately opened. Just over a minute later, Zach Hyman scored his first goal since December 1st, followed by Leon Draisaitl‘s 30th goal of the season just 30 seconds later.
Talk about making an immediate impact, that’s exactly what Kane’s first-period goal did. It would kickstart the team en route to an impressive 7-2 win for their fourth straight victory. All seven goals also came at even strength and they included not a single point from McDavid. Both even-strength scoring, and scoring without McDavid, have been major issues for this team all year long.
Kane’s Addition Means More Oilers Depth
No one should get ahead of themselves only one game into Kane’s tenure with the Oilers. It was indeed only a single game and it happened to be against the current worst team in the NHL. Plus, Kane still showed some rust on more than a few plays, which is going to take time to overcome.
Despite that small sample size, however, Kane’s addition and the resulting depth because of it is immediately evident. Look at the forward lines that the Oilers rolled on Saturday night:
Just with Kane’s addition, the Oilers for the first time in a long time were able to put together three hypothetical “scoring” lines. On Saturday night, in fact, all four lines received over eight and a half minutes of ice-time and all four lines scored at least one goal. It was legitimate, balanced scoring in the flesh – at least for one night.
Obviously, the Oilers are going to have to continue to produce at even strength before any definitive statement can be made about having three scoring lines, but the potential is there.
With Kane’s addition, it’s given one more high-powered winger to add to McDavid and Draisaitl’s arsenal. That’s allowed Nugent-Hopkins to move into the middle and form a legitimate third-line option, especially if he remains flanked with Hyman. Those two serve as one of Edmonton’s best penalty-killing duos, and their chemistry was on display Saturday night with three goals for and none against.
The Oilers’ bottom six have been bleeding goals at a rapid rate for years now. With Nuge as the third line pivot, that represents an opportunity to stop the bleeding.
It’s not only the third line that benefits from Kane’s addition. The fourth line should also be expected to reasonably improve. Just last night, the likes of Brendan Perlini, Kyle Turris and Tyler Benson all sat out. That isn’t to say that they all deserved to, but it means that the Oilers’ bottom six no longer needs to be comprised of players who simply have to play because of no other options. Rather, the bottom six, and specifically the fourth line, can be composed of players who are playing on merit.
It opens the door for a revolving competition where players on a hot streak can legitimately earn their ice-time, while the fringe players who are struggling can re-focus in the press box. As the fringe-players return to the lineup, they don’t necessarily need to be forced up the lineup.
Take, for example, Brendan Perlini. Perlini has spent most of the season as one of those fringe players, often in and out of the lineup. Recently, with covid issues and no Kane available, Perlini was placed onto the top line with McDavid. He likely wasn’t complaining about the opportunity, but for a player who has been averaging only eight minutes of ice-time a night, it wasn’t a fair ask.
Perlini has now missed the last two games as a healthy scratch. When he returns to the lineup, however, he won’t be met with an inappropriate role. Instead, he will likely slot back into the fourth line. Tippett will be able to deploy his line against proper competition at a reasonable rate of ice-time. It puts the player and the team in a much better position to succeed.
Kane’s Addition Gives Big Guns Better Opportunities
When the Oilers started to struggle in December and January, the whole team looked beat. Even McDavid and Draisaitl, Edmonton’s two best, looked flat-out exhausted at times.
This wasn’t all that surprising though. As the Oilers’ losing streaks raged on, the one thing that didn’t dip was the ice time of the Oilers’ two stars. Both McDavid and Draisaitl regularly hit 23, 24, 25, 26, and even 27 minutes of ice-time as the losses piled up. Those two were being relied on to do too much. The rapid goals-against on their stat sheets was a testament to the toll their exaggerated role was taking.
What were McDavid and Draisiatl’s ice-time on Saturday night? Seventeen and 15 minutes respectively. That game was a runaway, so not exactly a fair comparison, but again the potential going forward is evident. If Tippett doesn’t need to fear running a third line that can’t be defensively responsible, and a fourth line that is made up of players who more or less shouldn’t be playing, that means a more balanced deployment.
That balance should allow McDavid to exert his explosiveness on a more consistent basis. McDavid’s ability to turn nothing into something went unusually quiet over the last two months. Look for that to start returning. Additionally, Draisaitl’s line can hopefully get a bit of reprieve from some of the tougher defensive deployments of late, with Nugent-Hopkins’s trio serving more of that role.
More clean air for Draisaitl should equal an improvement on his current +1 even-strength goal differential when away from McDavid.
One Issue Covered, More Problems Remain
Kane’s addition to the Oilers is a solid step towards achieving legitimate balance, but other issues remain. Mikko Koskinen has a winning record but according to Money Puck, he remains one of the worst goalies in the league in expected goals against.
The Oilers simply aren’t going anywhere far without an improvement in net, whether that happens internally or externally. The options are slim, but that is part of the problem with Ken Holland not having addressed the issue in the offseason.
Additionally, the Oilers could likely still use a bit more support on the blue line. The team is still prone to mistakes from their defencemen and continues to lack a true shutdown blue-liner. The team could maybe look to flip Tyson Barrie, whose role has become a bit redundant in place of Bouchard, and snag a player who fills more of a role that they need.
For now, the Oilers looked to have arguably solved some of the major issues underpinning their forward group with the Kane signing. Holland will need to keep that creativity up before the alarm bell can completely be turned off, however. Next up? Goaltending.
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