Oilers’ Kane Becoming a Subtle Leader During Team Practices

Last Monday, TSN’s Ryan Rishaug tweeted a video of Edmonton Oilers’ forward Evander Kane engaging in a scrum with teammate Ryan McLeod, as he pushed, shoved, and gave body shots to the younger McLeod at the end of practice. To the untrained eye, it would appear like an aggressive act on a vulnerable player. But that wasn’t the case. What it was, was a good-natured exchange among teammates. In the end, Kane gave McLeod a tap on the pants with his stick, a gesture of playfulness, with Rishaug also mentioning that it was all in good fun.

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Kane leads the Oilers’ roster in career NHL fights, so he’s no stranger to the rough stuff. On a related note, he’s been known to engage physically with younger players at practice. He’s not being a bully, but rather a leader that’s methodical in his approach. It may seem minor, but by playfully fighting at practice, he’s subtly prepping his less experienced teammates for battle.

Kane Has Previously Engaged Physically With Teammates at Practice

The Oilers had only seven fighting majors last season, which was the fewest in the NHL. In comparison, the Nashville Predators led the league with 59. They didn’t bring in a tough guy to fight on the regular this past offseason, so heading into 2022-23, they’ll need toughness by committee.

On that note, Rishaug talked on his “Got Yer’ Back” podcast about Kane’s tendencies to have dustups with his teammates at practice, saying, “He does this thing at the end of practices, and I love it, I think it’s great. He’ll just start prowling around, and he’ll go over, and he’ll like, shove a guy and then put a glove up to his face and give a couple of shots, and they’re laughing and they start a little wrestling match.”

Evander Kane Edmonton Oilers
Evander Kane, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He talked about the exchange with McLeod, and added, “These are players who, you know, are being dragged into the fight by Evander Kane, right? He’s a guy that wants to drag his teammates into the fight with him and I think it’s kind of by design.”

This wasn’t the first time that Kane has playfully mixed it up with teammates at practice. Before the start of the playoffs last season, he “dropped the gloves” with young defenseman Evan Bouchard. He tied him up and threw fake punches and it was shown in a video released by the Oilers’ social media that both players had smiles on their faces. It’s worth noting that in the Oilers’ lengthy playoff run, Bouchard didn’t back down from the opposition and was steady in scrums.

Former Oiler Jason Strudwick spoke of the benefits that a playful exchange like that can have on a young player, saying, “The idea is that there are going to be scrums, and if you never practiced being in a scrum, you’ll never know what it’s like, and how to push and shove guys.” He added, “Kane is an alpha male, he crawls around, he wants everyone to know who’s in charge, and I love how those guys are trying to stand up and push back and understand that, it’s ok to push back.”

On another note, at the Oilers scrimmage last Saturday, Kane also engaged physically with Jesse Puljujarvi. He tied him up in a scrum-like fashion, but almost in a “big brother and little brother” sort of way. The Finnish forward had an interview on Sept. 22 and was asked about some of the things he’d like to work on heading into the new season and he said, “Go to the blue paint, and be strong, mean.” He was also asked if it was time for him to establish himself in the NHL, and he replied, “It is.”

Being strong and mean in and around the blue paint will help Puljujarvi solidify himself as an NHL player. But if he’s going to do that, he’s going to receive a lot of pushback from NHL defensemen. If he wants to get greasy and score the hardworking goals, it will without a doubt translate into scrums, and the little playful dustup that Kane had with him at center ice helps him get used to those situations – even if it’s in a minor way.

Kane Is Helping the Oilers With Toughness by Committee

Before Kane became an Oiler, he had a reputation as a bad teammate with his former teams. Yet, there haven’t been any reports of bad behaviour and it appears it’s been nothing but positive in his short tenure in Edmonton. It was even noted in last season’s exit interviews, that all of the core players wanted Kane re-signed.

The 31-year-old has been in 21 NHL career fights, so he’s experienced with the fisticuffs, but there’s not an expectation that he has to be the team’s fighter, because he’s so much more valuable on the ice than in the penalty box.

Evander Kane Edmonton Oilers
Evander Kane, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Yet, the Oilers don’t have a resident tough guy, so heading into the 2022-23 season, and as previously mentioned, there’s extra importance on team toughness. That doesn’t necessarily mean players will be expected to fight, but it means they have to stand their ground as NHL players, they have to push back and be willing to come to the aid of a teammate if the situation asks for it.

Far too often during the Oilers’ “Decade of Darkness”, the team was pushed around and players skated away when their teammates got into scuffles. That’s why Kane’s playful tussles with his teammates may not seem like a big deal, but it’s saying to his less experienced teammates, “I got your back, but you need to learn how to do this on your own, too.”

Related: Oilers’ Evander Kane Contract is Perfect for Both Sides

Kane signed a four-year deal with the Oilers on July 13 and he most recently settled his contract grievance with the San Jose Sharks. He’s poised to have a big season on Connor McDavid’s wing, after a stellar playoff run that saw him score 13 goals in 15 playoff games last spring. When the Oilers brought him into the fold for another four years, they knew about his goal-scoring ability and physicality, but it’s a bonus that he’s slowly turning into a leader on the team as well.

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