Oilers lines start to solidify in lead-up to Stanley Cup Final against Panthers

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While Evander Kane didn’t practise Wednesday, still nursing his possible sports hernia issue, he will skate in Florida Friday, likely back on the wing with Leon Draisaitl and Dylan Holloway as Edmonton Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch continues to tinker.

Knoblauch, who can’t seem to make any wrong moves with player deletions or shuffles in the playoffs, had the versatile Adam Henrique centring what could be a new third line for the Panthers games, with Mattias Janmark and Connor Brown on the wings. Ryan McLeod was with Corey Perry, while Sam Carrick and Derek Ryan were rotating in and out at centre during the short skate before they fly to Fort Lauderdale Thursday.

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If Kane is with Draisaitl, that means he’ll match up against old Calgary foe Matthew Tkachuk in a re-enactment of the 2022 playoffs, where Kane was continually in Tkachuk’s face. Tkachuk is on a second line with Sam Bennett and Evan Rodrigues…

“The three of them (Draisaitl, Kane and Holloway) provide a bit of everything,” said Knoblauch. “Leon’s the driver on the line, then Dylan with his speed can get in on the forecheck to disrupt things and Kane is more of a finisher, with a little more power and physicality. They provided some key goals and could have had more, with the chances they’ve created.”

For now it appears winger Warren Foegele is still the odd man out, after his career-high 20 goal regular-season and 15 games in the playoffs before he was scratched. Same with defenceman Vinny Desharnais, who will likely sit for Game 1 for Philip Broberg, who entered the lineup in Game 4 against Dallas.

“Holloway and Broberg have been thrown into the fire with the stakes high, and they hadn’t been with the team for the majority of the season, or played very little. Broberg was thrown in halfway through the Dallas series in pretty much a must-win game and he’s handled it well. With Dylan, he played with us at the end of regular season but we were wondering if he would drop back once playoffs started.

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“But it hasn’t affected their games. Neither player is thinking too much, they’re just playing their game.”

Just like Henrique.

His portability is his ace card. If he’s at centre on the third line, he’ll be going up against young Finn Anton Lundell, who has 12 points in 17 playoff games and is a two-way centre like Panthers captain Sasha Barkov.

“Rico gives us a lot of options, whether he’s in a shutdown role or as a complement to score goals, he’s a key player for us,” said Knoblauch.

Knoblauch said Foegele, a staple in the Top 9 throughout his 41-point season, wouldn’t be sitting much longer. “He’ll be coming back in, whether it’s Game 1 or Game 4. With his speed and his tenacity, his scoring … I mean, he had 20 goals in a secondary role and I think there was maybe one power-play goal in there,” said Knoblauch. “There’s not many of those guys available.”

Quick draw

One of Ron Low’s favourite lines when he was coaching the Oilers in the late ’90s was, “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin.’” Which brings us to Draisaitl in the faceoff circle. He keeps getting waved out by the linesmen. So is one of the NHL’s best faceoff men cheatin’? Maybe. But as we’ve seen throughout the playoffs, Connor McDavid, another veteran, doesn’t get waved like Draisaitl does.

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So what gives?

“I know what I’m doing wrong. I’m just on my toes, trying to dig in on faceoffs, sometimes I’m jumping a little too early,” said Draisaitl.

Keeping an even keel

Knoblauch rarely raises his voice to yell at refs during games, standing stoically behind the bench, and it’s the same behind closed doors. He’s never been a blow-his-stack kind of coach, although Brown does remember him throwing some paper cups all over the dressing room once when they were together in Erie.

“I remember a player telling me about the paper cups. He told me, ‘Don’t throw paper cups because all it does it make the players laugh because it’s a funny thing to watch,’’ said Knoblauch.

“My kids tell me I’ve changed quite a bit because I’ve got a lot of grey hair,” kidded Knoblauch. “As for my coaching style, it’s stayed the same, I’m true to my beliefs. I took over as head coach in Kootenay and the outgoing coach Mark Holick told me to just be myself. He said if you’re not, the players will see through it.”

This ‘n that: Henrique and Florida defenceman Brandon Montour, once teammates with the Ducks in Anaheim, have been running a summer golf tournament together for four years in Caledonia, Ont., raising money for lots of charities around the Brantford area where both were born. So was a more famous guy named Gretzky, of course. Montour grew up on the Six Nations of Grand River reserve, outside Brantford, and the tournament has helped kids sports there … Under clickbait, we bring you this column item from Miami Herald columnist Greg Cote, obviously a contrarian, or in need of a new prescription if he wears glasses. “Connor McDavid is overrated. Boom. He puts up big, impressive stats, yes. Fine. But should he really be called “generational,” called the best player in the sport, when in nine seasons he has yet to lead his team to a Stanley Cup? McOverated.” A silly take — nobody said Alex Ovechkin wasn’t still the best scorer in hockey when the Washington Caps weren’t winning, until they did … Knoblauch said Desharnais would also be back some time in the finals. Most likely it’ll be determined as to how the PK goes after a run of 28-straight playoff kills. If it falters, the big D-man will be needed there. He’s been a key component with shot blocks and his long reach at retrieving pucks. “Right now I don’t see any reason to take Brobie out,” said Knoblauch … Knoblauch played five years at the University of Alberta for Rob Daum, now coaching in Austria, and that’s where the germ of coaching started. “My first thought of coaching was because of Rob, how much respect I had for him. I I got really serious (about the idea) when I was just finishing up my playing career. I didn’t know the steps I’d have to take (including working as an assistant in Prince Albert to start his coaching career), but I’m obviously happy where I am,” he said … Perry got all of his bonuses on top of his $775,000 cap hit. He got $225,000 for playing his 10th league game, $50,000 after the Oilers won the second playoff round and he played in half of the 12 games in rounds 1 and 2, and the last 50 grand after the Western Conference final with the Oilers winning and Perry dressing for at least half the six games against Dallas … Backup Calvin Pickard played both games against Florida in the regular season, losing 5-3 in November and 5-1 just before Christmas.

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