The Edmonton Oilers have now played four games without Evander Kane in the lineup since the injury, which has given the coaching staff a little time to test out different players in more significant roles. Though it may seem all bad for the Oilers to lose someone of Kane’s calibre, it could be better in the long run for the team and a number of players. A spot in the top six provides inner competition for playing time, confidence, and production boosts for certain players and certain trade candidates, potentially raising their trade value. Let’s dive in.
Inner Competition Pushing Oilers’ Role Players
Whenever a player that holds a permanent spot in the top-six exits the lineup due to injury or other reasons, there is always an opportunity for any bottom-six player. The Oilers have a number of options they’ve not only tried but are fighting hard to keep any playing time and opportunity that may be up for grabs. Four players, in particular, have gotten chances, not only on the Oilers but higher in the lineup.
Mattias Janmark and Klim Kostin were called up when Kane was placed on long-term injured reserve. The cap space allowed the Oilers to replace one player with two. Both deserve to be in the NHL and have the skill set to succeed. Both have done just that. Janmark quickly went from playing in the AHL due to the cap situation in Edmonton to playing on the top line beside Connor McDavid. He has now been there for a few games, showing that he’s earned his role in the top six and on a scoring line despite no points in two games. His ice time jumped from around 11 minutes in the first two games since his recall to an average of 16:30. He played nearly 18 minutes in the Oilers’ win over the Vegas Golden Knights.
Kostin has always had the ability since he was drafted with the St. Louis Blues and the Oilers knew that when they traded for him. With the first opportunity to call him up, he immediately slotted in on the third line and has shown he can be a good power forward in the NHL. He has gotten chances and made some big hits. His size and physicality has somewhat made up for Kane being out of the lineup and allowed the third line to have more possession time in the offensive zone. He is definitely making a case to stick around with the Oilers even after Kane’s return in a few months.
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As for Warren Foegele and Dylan Holloway, both were tried out on the second line in the first two games Kane was out of the lineup. Holloway got the first crack at it since he dominated in preseason on a line with Leon Draisaitl. Though he has still showcased his speed and drive all over the ice, Foegele got his chance on that line and ran with it. He remains on the second line and has now scored all three of his goals on the season in the past five games.
Foegele Taking Advantage of Opportunity With Oilers
Up until this point, Foegele was at the forefront of any trade discussions involving the Oilers because of his lack of production, earning $2.75 million AAV. The problem may have been he hasn’t been with the right linemates or in the right role, or it takes time for some players to acclimate to new systems and teams. Whatever the case, he is helping out a ton in the absence of Kane on the second line.
This role was what he was playing in Carolina before the Oilers traded for him, and a large reason why he was successful. It’s no secret that the Oilers’ top six get much more playing time than the bottom six, and there’s definitely a gap between this team and other teams around the league in this regard. The top of the Oilers’ lineup is much more productive and has two of the best players in the world on them, a good reason why they play so much. It has been a problem since McDavid and Draisaitl have entered the league that their lines will produce while the bottom two lines struggle no matter who is on them.
Foegele has almost exclusively played in the bottom six since arriving in Edmonton. He is now averaging over 15 minutes a game after his ice time was less than 12 minutes per game before the lineup bump. With the opportunity, he has started to score. I mentioned three goals in the past five games and two since he was elevated. The winger has also started to earn time on the penalty kill. Not only have the Oilers seen better penalty kill results, but he has also scored while shorthanded. Even if Foegele ends up dropping back down to the third line in time, he will have a better feel for the puck and be more impactful than he was before. There also may be room in the top six for him to stay if Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto don’t figure out their offence. Foegele’s cap hit isn’t looking so bad right now and may end up being a good contract which the Oilers need from their role players.
Players Raising Trade Value for Oilers
With a lot of young and streaky players, it will constantly be a topic of conversation as to which ones are on the trade block. You could say Foegele’s name has been on there for nearly a year now with the lack of production he’s had until now. The Oilers have a lot of talent available at forward and even more on the way in the AHL and other leagues. Though the team is trying to win now, the salary cap prevents them from completely loading up their lineup. If they want to add in other areas, they must sacrifice one of their forwards earning around $3 million. This includes Foegele, Puljujarvi, or Yamamoto.
Puljujarvi and Yamamoto are more concerning, considering the lack of production we’ve seen from them with more time in the top six. Foegele has produced more goals than those two combined since he’s been elevated. The issue may be what the Oilers have seen from the former two in the past year as opposed to Foegele over a longer period of time. Yamamoto is a 20-goal scorer and can get in offensive slumps. He started last season in a similar manner. Puljujarvi had a reversed season in which he was a point-per-game player on the top line until his rhythm got thrown off. Both have shown flashes of talent for longer periods of time than Foegele has shown. The problem for all three of them is they only produce while in the top six. Whenever any of them are demoted to the bottom six because of any number of reasons, their production dries up.
Kane should be well before the trade deadline. If Foegele has provided enough offence and overall production to raise his value for the Oilers, they could very well still use him as trade bait to free up space and make a significant addition in the same trade.
Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News and trade talks.
You can find more of his work here.