Why it's such good news Edmonton Oilers wing Evander Kane expected to play in Game 1 vs Florida Panthers

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Some excellent news out of the Edmonton Oilers camp today, an indication from head coach Kris Knoblauch that power forward Evander Kane will be good to go in the playoffs against Florida.

As Oilers broadcaster Jack Michaels has reported of Knoblauch: “Also expects Evander Kane to practice Friday and play in Saturday’s opener. Kane vital in rendering Tkachuk ineffective in ‘22 Battle of Alberta.”

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And Daniel Nugent-Bowman of The Athletic reported: “Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch said he expects winger Evander Kane to be ready to start the Stanley Cup Final. Kane played just 4:39 in Game 6 vs. DAL because of an injury. He’s been playing through a sports hernia.”

My take

1. Edmonton has so far beaten and bested each playoff opponent at their own game. If they’re to do that against Florida, Kane is key.

Edmonton was more patient and disciplined than the patient and disciplined Los Angeles Kings. The Oilers were were every bit as tough and hard-working as the tough and hard-working Vancouver Canucks. Against Dallas, a team renowned for its goaltending, depth and defence, Edmonton had the better goaltending, depth and defence.

Florida is know for its high pace and all-out aggressive forechecking. Kane leads the way for the Oilers when it comes to all-out aggressive forechecking. He tormented Drew Doughty of Los Angeles and Quinn Hughes of Vancouver with brutal hits. He also made a non-factor of the physical menace of gigantic Canucks d-man Nikita Zadorov by repeatedly going after the big man with heavy hits. In a battle of on-ice apex predators, Kane held his own.

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2. Edmonton has already conquered one team that came after them physically. Los Angeles ranks second out of 16 NHL playoff teams for hits per 60 minutes of play, averaging 49 per 60 minutes against the Oilers in Round 1. Florida is fifth out of 16 teams at 42.5 hits per 60. Edmonton is just 13th out of 16 with 30.5 hits per 60.

In the regular season, Florida led the NHL with 28.2 hits per 60. Edmonton was 15th at 22.6, so the physical gap between the two teams appears to have widened in the playoffs. For Edmonton to beat Florida, the team will have to withstand that barrage of hits and do some serious damage of its own, with Kane leading the way.

3. Ryan Lomberg leads Florida with 31.2 hits per 60 in his five playoff games, followed by Kyle Okposo, 20.1 per 60, Steve Lorentz, 18.6, Sam Bennett 17.2, Eetu Luostarinen, 11.8, Kevin Stenlund, 10.9, and Nick Cousins, 10.8. Matthew Tkachuk is at 8.3.

On the Oilers, Sam Carrick is at 20.5 per 60, Dylan Holloway, 15.7, Kane, 13.6, Adam Henrique, 12.2, Derek Ryan, 11.5, Warren Foegele, 10.2, Vincent Desharnais, 9.0 and Darnell Nurse, 6.5.

4. To meet Florida’s fierce play, these and other Oilers will have to crank up their physical game. I expect lower-hitting players like Connor McDavid, Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Mattias Ekholm, Mattias Janmark and Leon Draisaitl to go full beast mode in this regard, not giving an inch to Florida in any aspect of the game.

5. Tkachuk is infamous in Edmonton for slew-footing Brandon Davidson and for his feuds with Oilers like Zack Kassian and Kane, who is given credit for taking some spark out of Tkachuk in the 2022 playoffs by getting in his face repeatedly and going after him on the ice.

“We know what he’s about,” Kane said of the mouthy Tkachuk at that time. “There’s never a lot of back up to that talk.”

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Of course, both Tkachuk and Kane are more than grinders. They’re highly skilled plays counted on to help score goals. Tkachuk is Florida’s top point producer in the playoffs, but I expect he’ll wage all-out war on the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals, going after them with his everything from his elbows, shoulders and stick to his sharp tongue, from his slew-footing skates to his fists if necessary. But as he did with Zadorov, Kane is the perfect force to counter-act Tkachuk.

As Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman put it earlier this week, “I think Kane could be a very important player.”

Added Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek, the Florida Panthers are a miserable team to play against with players like Bennett and Tkachuk charging around and trying to run the show: “This is a series that is made for Evander Kane… I don’t know if you can beat a team like the Florida Panthers without Evander Kane. It would take an incredible performance by a lot of players.”

Grade A 18g

6. When it comes to even strength two-way performance, Kane has also been Edmonton’s second best winger in the playoffs. This is why the new report of him being good-to-go is such encouraging news. He’s a vital ingredient of the Oilers formula for success. No one else brings all he does, and all he has will be needed against the Panthers.

At the Cult of Hockey

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