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Pick Up The Slack!

Oilers get off to perfectly mediocre start to the season. When do they kick into next gear?

Edmonton Oilers v Florida Panthers Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

With yesterday afternoon’s 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers, the Edmonton Oilers have played 20% of their schedule and have been able to piece together a 9-7 record. It hasn’t been a terrible or overly successful start to their season and with Evander Kane expected to be out of action for an extended period, the collective will have to find a way to pick up the slack.

Edmonton currently has the league’s top two point getters, leading goal scorer and assists guy in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. From a statistical standpoint, these two continue to do what they’ve done for years and expecting them to do even more seems a tad ridiculous. Though would any of us be surprised if they were able to pull it off?

Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have more than held up their end of the deal, as both players have produced at a point a game pace and continue to be impact players on a nightly basis. Despite getting off to a slow start, Kane had 13 points in 14 games before his gruesome injury but after those five names, the Oilers haven’t had much in the way of production.

Enter the need for some of the so-called “others” to raise their level of play to help fill the void in the lineup. On the production front, it’s been a rough start to the season for all three of Warren Foegele, Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto, albeit in different circumstance. Ryan McLeod has shown flashes but hasn’t scored much and rookie Dylan Holloway has looked out of his element through 12 games.

Unfortunately for Yamamoto, he too was injured against the Tampa Bay Lightning last week and seems destined to be out of the lineup for at least the short-term. In other words, the opportunity to impress Jay Woodcroft and force him into using you in a more prominent role is sitting there for the taking. That hasn’t always been the case but at this moment, it most certainly is the case.

To their credit, Foegele and Puljujarvi have played their two best games of the season in two of the Oilers last three games and both of those turned into wins. The former has responded with his first two goals of the season in the aforementioned two games and the latter continues to be an effective player on McDavid’s wing, though the goals and points have yet to come.

Among fans, Puljujarvi continues to be as polarizing a figure as there is on this roster. His lack of production is there for all to see but unlike Yamamoto (who has been far less effective) he has only had the occasional look inside the top six. On the other hand, Foegele hasn’t been bad on the third line but posting zeros on a nightly basis can’t be the norm and that is how things have played out.

In order for this team to survive Kane’s absence for the speculated three to four months, all of these guys are going to have to find a way to contribute with some regularity on scoresheet. Not to mention the need for the likes of McLeod, Derek Ryan, Devin Shore and recently recalled Mattias Janmark and Klim Kostin to chip in from time to time. Same goes for Holloway, if he isn’t sent back to Bakersfield.

Kane is by no means a perfect player and tends to take far too many bad penalties but his skill-set is one no other player in the Oilers lineup has. The physicality and tenacity he plays with is unmatched by anyone on this roster and this group will badly miss his want to get pucks on net. There is nothing wrong with high volume shooters, especially when you play with guys like McDavid and Draisaitl.

Realistically, the chance of all of these guys being able to fill the gap in production that will be created with no. 91 is essentially zero. However, if they can do their part and the team as a whole starts playing a more defensively responsible game (which will have to happen) this group will win a lot of games between now and Kane’s return, with time to get ready for the playoffs.

Let’s not kid ourselves, if Edmonton can’t make this happen, they could be in real trouble. If Ken Holland has to add a top six forward, on top of finding a legitimate piece to improve the backend, that thing called cap space could prove to be problematic. Fingers crossed it doesn’t come to that.