Edmonton Oilers

Oilers Sunday Census: Player most likely to have a better 2023–24 season

Although in the quiet of the preseason we think we know it all, able to rank players and teams on paper, the chaos that is an NHL season is both unpredictable and inevitable. Each player and each team is filled with expectations, internal and external, promises of could, should, and might, upsides to tangle with. Unfortunately, not all of these dreams will come true. Perhaps just as much, unexpected performers will emerge in their place.

To understand some of the chaos we need only think back to last season. Though it was a season of fantastic highs for the Edmonton Oilers, there were too disappointing performances, for one reason to another. The wheel of chance is set to begin turning once more, offering a fresh start and fresh peril alike.

With this in mind we asked our readers: Which player from the Oilers is setting himself up for a better 2023–24 season?

Want to take part in Sunday Census polls? We send them out every week on our Twitter at @oilrigEDM. Follow along or send in ideas for the next poll!

Kane’s comeback after injury

With more than his share of the vote, Evander Kane finishes our poll in second place, though expectations of Kane are likely unchanged from what they were headed into last season. Kane is expected to be an unquestioned part of the Oilers top-six forwards, a power forward with a rare blend of powerful size, speed, and physicality with enough of a scoring touch to score 30 goals, likely third most among Oilers.

While the player can hardly be put at fault it was a difficult 2022–23 campaign for Kane, one that all of Oil Country is counting on change from. Kane suffered a gruesome wrist injury early in the season. On top of missing a large chunk of the season with recovery from this injury, it’s fair to think that Kane might’ve been experiencing some lingering adverse effects of the injury even after this return to the lineup.

To make matters worse Kane would suffer another injury, this time a broken rib, leading to further missed time down the stretch of the regular season. Ultimately Kane was able to suit up for the playoffs, but he was, understandably perhaps, not as effective as he was in the Oilers 2021–22 playoff run. Between the physical trauma of these injuries, the time missed, and the weaving in and out of the lineup, Kane was hardly in a position to gain much traction in the season.

If only for better health, Kane is poised to have a greater impact on the Oilers this season. Though into his 30s, Kane is still a quality player that adds a wrinkle of dimension to the roster in terms of style of play and overall mentality. Kane brings an edge to the roster, and could have another vintage performance in his future still. The significant portion of votes received is an acknowledgment that Kane bears the weight of returning to form, which would be a boon to the Oilers aspirations.

Another chance for Campbell

Though unlike Kane, Jack Campbell’s 2022–23 season was not marred by injury—it is hard to think of an Oiler who had a more disappointing campaign last season. A first year Oiler, Campbell was signed to a deal indicating that the expectation was for him to be the starter, if not the lead role in a tandem.

It wasn’t long, however, until all such hopes were dashed, with Campbell visibly struggling as he all but lost the net to the ascendant Stuart Skinner. Through this early portion of the season the Oilers had plenty of troubles of their own, with a heavily injured forward group and a defensive game that left a lot to be desired. Somehow, Campbell managed to maintain a strong record through it all as the Oilers were often able to outscored his struggles.

The end of the Oilers 2022–23 season had a much different story for Campbell, as he played quite well in his playoff appearances. Though the Oilers playoff exit can hardly be blamed on Skinner, given his heavy workload and the fact that both Stanley Cup finalists used multiple starting goalies on their respective playoff runs—a growing trend—it might even be said that the Oilers should have turned to Campbell at some point in their series against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Though Campbell’s career arc has had its twists and turns, his undeniable track record of success in high leverage games is something for Oil Country to find solace in. If nothing else this strong performance has left a good taste in our mouths, a promise that 2023–24 will be a strong bounce back season for Campbell.

In a vacuum, his cap hit is a bit overinflated, though as a tandem the combined cost of the Oilers duo is quite reasonable. They will need to share the net quite evenly to bring the best out of each other, and the Oilers should be bold in riding the hot hand, even in the playoffs. Perhaps at some point, with a strong performance from Campbell and a continued ascension from Skinner, it might be possible to to consider replacing Campbell with a more affordable option, but this begins with some rehabilitation from his disastrous opening chapter in Edmonton.

McLeod continuing to improve

A distant fourth in our poll, Ryan McLeod is different from the other candidates. A younger player, coming off of his most successful NHL season, McLeod asserted himself as a strong checking centre, the key cog of the Oilers third line. McLeod was particularly effective with Warren Foegele on his wing, as their lines often dominated flow of play stats, like expected goals percentage, while on this ice together.

Instead of a bounce back, a better 2023–24 season for McLeod is about continuing to build another step forward in his development. In some sense this will be an inevitable result of his continued excellence, as defensive reputations can take years to build, recognition often lagging behind ability in waxing and in waning.

There is another avenue for McLeod’s increased impact, improved linemate quality. Perhaps with more skilled linemates McLeod will be able to increase his offensive production. McLeod’s main offensive tools are his playmaking skills, as well as his speed which should help his team in transition. In the past McLeod has shown to have a compelling synergy with Leon Draisaitl, who would boost the offensive potential of any linemate. Although Foegele and Derek Ryan were fantastic on McLeod’s wings, it shouldn’t be too difficult to imagine another step forward for McLeod with stronger linemates.

A fresh start for Brown

More than any other player in our poll, Brown is all but guaranteed to have a more productive season in 2023–24 than he did in 2022–23. After appearing in just four games last season, his first as a member of the Washington Capitals, Brown suffered a knee injury that would keep him sidelined into this summer.

Primed to be ready for the start of training camp, Brown will look to get off on the right foot as a member of the Oilers. Despite the new locale, Brown will have some familiarity with some key figures in the Oilers organisation, including junior teammate Connor McDavid, former teammate Zach Hyman, and former agent and Oilers president Jeff Jackson.

Aside from Brown’s health, familiarity with the Oilers, as well as the Oilers general strength as a team, an additional reason for optimism might be that Brown’s career was on something of an upwards trajectory headed into last season. Heading into his age 30 season, Brown is hardly a young player, but he was quite a bit more effective in a larger role with the Ottawa Senators from 2019 to 2022 than he was in smaller roles with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 2015 to 2019. Brown has reached the 20-goal plateau twice during his career, eclipsing 40 points once, and always held a role on the penalty kill in the NHL.

As a true perennial contender, the 2023–24 Oilers will be the best NHL team that Brown has ever been on, but a team where his strengths will also be highly valued. Although a reliable 15-goal, 35-point scorer is valued in any NHL lineup, Brown’s ability as a penalty killer will be important for an Oilers team looking to improve on what was likely their greatest team flaw in 2022–23, their 20th ranked penalty killing efficiency.

Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire

Gregory Babinski

twitter: @axiomsofice

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