You will never guess the best two-way winger on the Edmonton Oilers for 2023

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You’ll never guess the Edmonton Oilers best two-way winger for 2023.

And, of course, no small number of you will disagree with my selection. But I’m going to make an argument that Warren Foegele has been Edmonton’s best winger at even strength  for the calendar year of 2023, starting on Jan. 1, 2023, carrying through to the end of the 2022-23 season, including the 2023 playoffs and the start of the 2023-24 season, 59 games in total (44 in the 2022-23 regular season, 12 in the playoffs, three this season).

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It’s a significant stretch of time, long enough to get a solid read on any single player and a comparative read on a group of players, such as Edmonton’s wingers.

I wasn’t always a Foegle fan. The effort was often there but he leaked a few too many Grade A shots and didn’t create enough on the attack for my liking. But I’ve become a Foegele booster in 2023. He’s big (6-feet, 2-inches, 200-pounds), fast in a straight line, and aggressive, quick to engage on the forecheck and backcheck, unafraid to use his body to gain advantage on the ice. He’s no great or good passer of the puck but he’s dangerous rushing it. He’s not any kind of sniper but he bulls his way to a good rate of Grade A shots.

He plays an honest, straight-line game, up and down his wing, a disciplined game where he’s starting to get far more done than ever before.

Foegele’s main competitors in this category in this time period are two far more heralded wingers, Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, whom I’ll get to in a moment.

Evander Kane isn’t in the running just now. Kane has been fighting through injury much of this time period and has yet to come close to his pre-injury form.

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Klim Kostin had his moments last year but was never more than a fourth liner and his two-way play. Now he’s gone. As is Kailer Yamamoto, who failed to get much done in the playoffs (though we will all continue to remember and thank Yamo for one very big goal against Los Angeles).

Derek Ryan got better as the 2022-23 season went along and was dynamite in the playoffs, shocking most Oilers observers by playing exceptionally strong two-way hockey in the post-season. But Foegele was better than Ryan in the regular season and played at about the same high level in the playoffs, the two of them on a solid line with lightning Ryan McLeod.

Foegele has started out the 2023-24 season flying, while Ryan is struggling to get ice time (no one ever said the NHL was fair, but I expect Ryan to keep slogging).

As for Mattias Janmark, he was hurt in the playoffs, and for all he brought as a defensive winger, Foegele’s two-way play eclipsed Janmark’s overall even strength work.

We’re left with Hyman, Nugent-Hopkins and Foegele in the contention for top two-way winger on the Oilers, which is my way of saying we’re only looking at even strength play here. Hyman and RNH are so good on the power play that it’s hard to separate that out from their two-way play at even strength. But it’s in that significant game state where Foegele has put his pedal to the metal and where I give him an edge over RNH and Hyman.

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Much of my argument in favor of Foegele is built on the playoffs, by far the most important part of any season. It’s the playoffs that I put the most weight in terms of rating and ranking players and Foegele was superior at even strength to RNH, Hyman or any other Oilers wingers, with the possible exception of Ryan, in the 2023 playoffs.

Hyman started out as the king of Oil wingers last regular season, but I’m only looking at 2023, not 2022. Mainly due to injury and heavy use, he slowed down considerably as the season went on and in the 2023 playoffs. He was OK in the playoffs, but not much more than that.

RNH had two even strength points in the playoffs. He was a major disappointment. Hyman had four, playing with top linemates. Foegele had three, playing with Ryan and McLeod, two other checkers, and Foegele’s defensive play was much superior to what we saw from either RNH or Hyman in the playoffs.

Foegele

Essentially, as the 2022-23 season progressed, Foegele just kept better and better at even strength, and he’s kept up his high level of two-way play early in the 2023-24 season, earning a spot on the second line. At the Cult of Hockey we track and record each Edmonton players’ contributions to Grade A shots for and their mistakes on Grade A shots against. Foegele’s Grade A shots plus-minus supports my argument, going from +0.85 per game (an OK number for a winger) in the first three months of the 2022-23 season, then rising to +1.6 per game (a good number for a winger) in the second half, then shooting up to +1.95 per game (a very good number for a winger) in the playoffs. His point scoring per game also increased from the 2022 to the 2023 part of last season, going from 0.26 points per game to 0.53 points per game.

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Foegele is in a contract year, the last of his three year deal that pays him $2.75 million per with the Oilers. He earned his money last year for that cap hit, and he’s on his way to doing that again this year.

Can he earn a new deal with the Oilers? He’ll be 28 next year, still likely in his hockey prime for a few more seasons. But a new contract will depend on his play this season, and especially in the playoffs, as well as Edmonton’s cap situation.

It could well be that Foegele performs at such a high level the Oilers won’t be able to afford him, a bittersweet eventuality, but such is life with the NHL’s salary cap.

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