Oilers’ Kane a Better Fit With Draisaitl Than McDavid

The Edmonton Oilers lost to the second last Montreal Canadiens 5-2 last Saturday night. The biggest story on the night was Oilers’ goaltender Mike Smith and his inability to come up with a big save to keep his team in the game. The Oilers need to figure out their goaltending situation, and quickly, before the story starts to shift to “Connor McDavid is about to miss the playoffs again in his seventh season in the NHL.”

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Yet, a positive I wanted to highlight is the chemistry that is forming between linemates Evander Kane and Leon Draisaitl. When the former San Jose Shark signed with the Oilers, it was viewed that he would be the perfect winger to complement McDavid. When he signed, TSN hockey analyst Craig Button projected Kane to play with the Oilers’ captain, and spoke of their potential to produce big points together. However, over the last stretch of games, it’s been noticeable that he’s developing more chemistry with the big bodied playmaker, Draisaitl, instead.

Kane Has Found Early Success with the Oilers

Kane has come as advertised. His physicality is an element that has been severely lacking on an Oilers team that has been pushed around far too often in the last couple of years. He has 53 hits and isn’t afraid to muck it up after the whistle. In 17 games he’s tallied eight goals, six assists — on pace for 67 points in an 82-game season. He’s also not afraid to shoot the puck, with 52 shots on goal and a plus-9 rating in 19:29 average time on ice.

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

He started producing right away, scoring his first goal in his first game with the Oilers, but it seems it’s taken him a bit of time to find his legs, get up to game speed and find his timing. Rightfully so, missing 39 games, before joining Edmonton.

Woodcroft Moved Kane From McDavid to Draisaitl’s Line

He started his campaign lined up with McDavid on the first line. Perhaps it was due to him not being up to game speed, but he looked somewhat out of place flanking the left side of the Oilers’ captain. I’ve previously mentioned in another article that the key to success in playing with the former Hart Trophy winner (if your name isn’t Draisaitl), is to be able to get the puck in McDavid’s hands at full flight for him to attack with speed through the neutral zone. However, Kane looked unsettled playing on his line. He often forced passes that led to giveaways, instead of taking the time to look for the right play. It seemed like he focused too much on “get the puck to McDavid”, which prevented him from playing his style. Still, he produced in the five games he played on the first line, tallying two goals and two assists.

When head coach Jay Woodcroft took over, he moved Kane onto the second line with Draisaitl in his first game behind the bench on Feb. 11. Kane registered two goals and an assist in the following six games, but he and the big German recently started to click during the Oilers’ five-game road trip.  

Kane started to find his legs and regain his timing and it showed against the Chicago Blackhawks on March 3. He was winning board battles and the pair were finding each other in open spots all night. In the first period, Darnell Nurse broke up a play and head-manned the puck to Draisaitl. He created a one-on-one situation with the Blackhawks’ defender, and Kane turned on the jets, turned it into a two-on-one, and buried the pass by Draisaitl. The left-winger had his biggest game as an Oiler, finishing the night with two goals, including the tying goal with 50-seconds left to help Edmonton secure a point.

The pair continued their success against the Canadiens. They had numerous scoring chances in the first period period alone. Kane made a nice breakout pass to Kailer Yamamoto and he quickly snapped the puck to Draisaitl. The centerman circled within the offensive zone, held onto the puck until Kane was in position, and made a saucer pass for a scoring chance that he couldn’t convert on.

The duo found the back of the net later in the period. Draisaitl chipped the puck in the Canadiens’ zone and Kane chased it down. He won a puck battle, passed it to Draisaitl, and went hard to the net. The centerman found Kane open in the slot and he buried his eighth of the season.

Kane & Draisaitl’s Playing Style Complement One Another

Kane and Draisaitl’s playing styles complement each other’s very well and they have the makings of the prototypical “power forward” and “playmaker” relationship. They’re both heavy players that work well on the cycle, with Kane as the puck retriever. He crashes and bangs and feeds the puck to his centerman. He gets open, and Draisaitl, who is one of the best passers in the game, finds him in the open spots for prime scoring chances.

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Yamamoto has been excellent to round out the second line as well. He spoke about playing with both Kane and Draisaitl after their win against the Philadelphia Flyers:

“It’s been a few games now, we’re building that chemistry. I like playing with them. Kaner likes to go to the net and play down low and Leo likes to hold onto the puck and make plays. We have a little bit of everything and we’ll only go up from here.”

Kane’s chemistry with Draisaitl is a pleasant surprise and has the potential to grow even further. After starting the season 16-5, Oilers fans would have never imagined that later in the season, Evander Kane of all people would be one of the few bright spots on a team that’s fighting for their playoff lives.