How Evander Kane Beefed Up the Edmonton Oilers’ Offense

Evander Kane carries a ton of baggage. Even if we focus strictly on the teammate rather than the man, many San Jose Sharks reportedly didn’t want him back ahead of the 2021-22 season. He’s the NHL’s problem child. Despite that fact, the Edmonton Oilers made the controversial move to sign him in late January.

And it’s paying off. Since he joined the squad, Edmonton’s points percentage has vaulted from 17th to sixth in the league, its offensive output has spiked from 3.21 (11th) to 3.64 goals per game (5th) and the club has climbed up to second place in the Pacific Division. This has coincided with Jay Woodcroft’s introduction as a fresh voice behind the bench, but there’s no denying the effect Kane has had on the Oilers. Edmonton wasn’t hoping for a spark from some middling journeyman (although it did take a flier on Derick Brassard as well). Kane is a proven commodity. Moreover, his recent off-ice drama has unfolded amid perhaps the best hockey of his career. Over his four years with the Sharks, he paced for 34 goals and 64 points per 82 contests.

Adding a bargain-bin top-six piece to a squad featuring Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl? Chalk this up as one of Ken Holland’s few wins of late.

Kane immediately stepped in as the club’s most potent winger, and he’s sitting on 16 goals and 30 points in 36 games. Some of that stems from McDavid’s magic. Another portion boils down to his raw talent. The rest is his mentality. The 30-year-old knows where goals are scored from (i.e. the slot), and he parks his body there accordingly. His 6’2”, 210-pound frame, combined with his above-average puck skills, makes him a load to handle in the trenches:

If it wasn’t already plain to see, he isn’t Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin or David Pastrnak. Long-distance marksmanship isn’t his bread and butter. That doesn’t stop him from taking questionable shots from the outside, but when he puts his mind to crashing the net, he’s an absolute nightmare for defenders. Just consider his production: 82% of his goals this season have come from the slot area. He has the strength to hold his own against virtually anyone in the NHL and the quick hands required to cash in on the countless opportunities created by McDavid and Draisaitl in tight.

Moreover, his willingness to dig his heels in draws attention and manufactures premium second-chance looks for his teammates too. Suddenly, there are more loose pucks around the blue ice and clearer openings for the Oilers’ back end to jump into the fray. Unsurprisingly, McDavid’s five-man unit has been far deadlier with Kane than without him (3.58 vs. 2.87 GF60).

He can’t simply sit in the slot the entire night, though. This is a three-zone game. When Kane isn’t in position to leverage his net-front expertise, he does well to link up with his teammates via short passes:

This is where his previous top-line experience comes in handy. While he’s never played with anyone of McDavid or Draisaitl’s caliber, he has shown the ability to hang with star talent in the past. As such, he understands when to defer and when to call his own number. If he doesn’t have room to gather a head of steam up the ice, he’ll find McDavid and let the captain dictate the terms with his blinding pace.

These minor transitional plays may not seem like much, but the Oilers’ best players have routinely been let down by their stone-handed supporting cast. Even Zach Hyman, who joined the team in free agency after years stapled next to Auston Matthews, has tripped up McDavid this year. Playing with skill is, well…a skill.

Kane can be guilty of overhandling the puck or attempting low-percentage passes into traffic. However, he’s more effective than his counterparts at merely giving Edmonton’s leaders the puck on a more regular basis—and that has made a world of difference.

When teams bottle McDavid up, Kane can also rely on his physical tools to manufacture space:

He’s a true modern power forward. He possesses good burst in his skating and he has the build to absorb contact or deliver it in order to separate opponents from the puck. Again, he’s inconsistent in this regard, but when he embraces the gritty side of the sport, he becomes a wrecking ball. He can blow through checks without breaking a sweat. He can strike fear in the heart of defensemen during puck retrievals. He can just push the pile and orchestrate mad scrambles in the slot.

Every now and then, he’ll pull out a remarkable solo effort that provides his team with the upper hand. With McDavid around, that’s all it takes. A change of possession can turn into a goal in a fraction of a second.

Sure, Kane isn’t an ice-tilting phenom. He doesn’t need to be in Edmonton. His net drive and trigger-happiness make him an ideal fit on the first line:

Those traits have translated to the Oilers controlling 61.4% of the goals scored during his shifts. That ranks second among the club’s forwards. His GF60 ranks fifth. Does he address the team’s biggest needs? No, but he enhances its strengths. The midseason addition of a proper top-six talent has boosted McDavid’s impact and rounded out Edmonton’s forward corps by pushing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins into a more defensive role.

Alongside Woodcroft’s coaching, Kane’s arrival has allowed the Oilers’ offense to take off right in time for a serious playoff push.

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