Oilers’ Foegele Gets Opportunity of a Lifetime Playing with McDavid

All signs point to Warren Foegele lining up alongside Connor McDavid as the Edmonton Oilers return to action following an 11-day layoff after having four games postponed amid the latest COVID-19 outbreak. Edmonton’s first game will be on the road against the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center on Wednesday (Dec. 29).

Warren Foegele Edmonton Oilers
Warren Foegele, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Foegele played left wing on the top line centered by McDavid in Edmonton’s last two games before things were shut down and was again skating with the three-time Art Ross Trophy winner when the Oilers were back on the ice Monday (Dec. 27).

Zach Hyman was on McDavid’s right during practice, taking a spot occupied by Jesse Puljujarvi and Zack Kassian the previous two games. Hyman is expected to be in the lineup after missing three games with a shoulder injury, while Kassian is now in COVID protocol.

Regardless of who plays right wing, it makes sense to keep Foegele with McDavid. Before they were put together, Edmonton’s season had gone into a spiral with six consecutive losses. Since then, the Oilers are 2-0, getting a pair of much-needed victories, 5-2 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Dec. 16 and 5-3 over the Seattle Kraken on Dec. 18. Between them, Foegele and McDavid combined for four goals and three assists in the two wins.

McDavid’s Search for Sidekicks

The Oilers have been trying for years to find wingers for the greatest player on the planet, from Benoit Pouliot to Milan Lucic, but none have managed to stick with McDavid for long before the line goes back into the blender. The most common fallback is to throw McDavid together with fellow Hart Trophy winner Leon Draisaitl, loading up one explosive line at the expense of depth.

So can Foegele finally be the one that plays Robin to McDavid’s Batman for not just a game or two but for years’ worth of sequels? It’s undeniable that Foegele possesses many traits that make the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder an ideal partner in crime for McDavid. He’s aggressive but doesn’t lack skill, has the size and the speed to keep up with the lightning-quick McDavid, and gets on pucks and goes to the net.

Foegele Finding His Fit

Edmonton acquired Foegele from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for defenceman Ethan Bear during the offseason and signed the restricted free agent to a three-year contract worth $8.25 million.

Over 200 regular-season appearances with Carolina, the 2014 third-round draft pick (67th overall) had totaled 35 goals and 33 assists, averaging 28 points per 82 games.

Related: Oilers’ Warren Foegele: 5 Things to Know About Edmonton’s Latest Signing

For the season’s first 27 games, Foegele played primarily on Edmonton’s third line, and for the most part, accounted well in a role that demands a bit of everything. Over that span, Foegele ranked third on the team with 43 hits and fifth among Oilers forwards in both Corsi (51.5%) and Fenwick (50.2), however, his primary stats (two goals, six assists, 41 shots, minus-8 rating) fell below expectations.

Given a chance in a new role, Foegele has scored three times on seven shots and recorded a plus-2 rating over the two games. But those goals haven’t come out of character from someone of his ilk: one was into an empty net, one came from pouncing on a rebound and burying it, and one went in as he was being pushed into the goaltender after parking himself on the doorstep. That last one, coming in the third period while tied with Seattle, wasn’t pretty; it was painful. And it was the game-winner.

In short, it’s not that Foegele has changed so much as his surroundings, which bodes well for sustained output. As Oilers coach Dave Tippett noted during his media availability Monday, Foegele is doing similar things, only now being getting rewarded for them.

“He’s just got a work ethic, a relentless(ness) to him that he brings an energy to a line wherever he is,” the coach also said.

Most Coveted Spot in the NHL

This is the chance of a lifetime for the 25-year-old Foegele. Playing on McDavid’s wing is the most coveted forward spot in the league, and if anyone could ever take up permanent residence next to the Oilers captain, they would be a made man. Just ask Kassian, who had a few good months with McDavid in 2019-20 and ended up nearly $13 million richer for it.

Foegele does not have Kassian’s perceived intimidation factor that some believe translates into protection for McDavid. But he impacts the game in more ways and does so with far greater consistency than the hit-and-miss Kassian.

It’s hard not to root for Foegele, whose effort level has already won him a lot of fans in Edmonton. But beyond being a mere feel-good story, Foegele taking a spot on the top line would significantly impact the Oilers lineup, allowing for better talent distribution and more balanced lines.

After stealing the show in his audition before Christmas, it’s no surprise Foegele got a callback. Now’s his time to win the part.

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