It’s been a case of out of sight, out of mind as it concerns Evander Kane. After his gruesome wrist injury, no one across Oil Country were expecting to see him on the ice anytime soon. It certainly hasn’t helped that the Oilers have had a litany of other concerns keeping up with a playoff pace, including several injuries within the forward group throughout the first half of the season.
Now, heading into mid January and with the second half of the regular season underway, Kane is skating and shooting, ahead of the timeline given for his return. In fact, it may not be five games before one of the Oilers top wingers returns to action.
Falling in line with the other ~$5M cap hit among the forward group, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman, Kane was supposed to be a key producer for the Oilers. Heading into the season, our Twitter poll for the Oilers third best forward came out with Kane by a wide margin.
Kane’s effect on the lineup
As long as parallels are being drawn from this season to last, with the Oilers sitting at a record more similar to last January than any would have hoped, we should be reminded of the boost Kane provided when he first joined the Oilers. In the world of the hard salary cap parity is rampant and adding a player of quality can make a huge difference. It will be this season, like last, that the Oilers will hope that Kane can come into the lineup and transform from the upper middle class, talented but top heavy, to legitimately elite.
With a forward group that can compete for tops in the league the rest of the Oilers team makeup becomes more feasible. The talented offensive blueline can be capitalised on to a greater extent, the middling defensive effectiveness, an thus the burden on the goalies is lightened. Naturally, other forwards get pushed further down the lineup as well, with several wingers having played above their depth of late.
At his best, there is little doubt of the impact that Kane can make on the ice. Even when joining the Oilers in the middle of last season, he was doing so after missing much of the first half of the season with the San Jose Sharks. Jumping onto a moving train, so to speak, it is notable that Kane was able to be effective regardless.
Kane coming in cold is a bit different this time around, coming off a deep cut that limited feeling in his fingers. Some injuries are more common, or the procedures more controlled, allowing for a clearer prognosis. Kane’s injury was anything but procedural, and there’s almost no telling how the slightest change in angle might have completely changed how severe the injury was.
Comparing Kane’s injury to a similar one
At least on a surface level, there is a recent case of a similar wrist injury in the NHL, with Ilya Mikheyev suffering such an injury in the 2019–20 season. Though the injury may not be exactly the same, and Kane is a better player than Mikheyev, there are enough similarities between the players and their circumstances that analysing Mikheyev’s return from injury might inform us as to how Kane’s performance might be affected.
For Mikheyev, the wrist injury occurred during his rookie NHL season. A big winger with great speed, Mikheyev possessed a scoring touch as well, beating goalies routinely in the KHL, including some five-hole shots, the mark of a sniper. Below are Mikheyev’s career stats, starting with his rookie season, in which he was injured, all the way up to this season, his first with the Vancouver Canucks.
GP=games played, G=goals, A=assists, Pts=points, S=shots, S%=shooting percentage, TSA=total shots attempted, TOI=time on ice, ATOI=average time on ice
Mikheyev was snakebitten enough that a trade was requested by his agent to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The entire trajectory of his career might well have been in question, with Mikheyev looking more likely to be a fringe NHLer, or even a return to the KHL, before regaining his form in 2021–22, ultimately earning a large contract in unrestricted free agency.
All this being said, Kane and Mikheyev are not exactly the same player, despite some similarities, with Kane being more of a physical presence and Mikheyev having more value as a penalty killer. Even if Kane’s scoring efficiency is impacted to a similar degree that Mikheyev’s was, Kane will still bring other contributions that will help the Oilers.
Extrapolations of Kane’s numbers based on Mikheyev’s
Mikheyev’s shooting percentage dipped 4.8% from his career average. In his 43 regular season games with the Oilers last season, Kane managed a 14.5% shooting percentage. Though his career shooting percentage is 9.9%, his mark of 11.5% in three years with the Sharks might be a more accurate representation of the expectations that should be held.
With the same number of shots and a shooting percentage 4.8% lower than his recent average of 11.5%, Kane would have scored 10.18 goals with the Oilers last season, much lower than the 22 that he did score. Supposing that the talents of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl would give a boost to Kane’s shooting percentage, taking the -4.8% hit off his 14.5% he shot with the Oilers last season, he would be in line for 14.74 goals. With five goals already on the season, Kane might well reach the 20-goal mark, even with the same negative effects that Mikheyev experienced. Even with this conservative projecting, Kane scoring 10-15 more goals on the season still represents a top six forward.
Kane could exceed these expectations
Naturally, this comparison will only go so far, but it is fair to afford Kane some leeway upon his return. Mikheyev did have the added time of a full offseason upon his return, something that Kane will not have until this summer. Kane is a far more experienced NHLer, which might aid him in his quest to return to form. Time will tell how it all shakes out, but even with some patience afforded to him, Oilers fans should be expecting Kane to make a big difference to the roster.
Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire