EDMONTON, AB – The Kane Train is back on track and on schedule heading towards the new season.
The 32-year-old produced 16 goals and 28 points for the Oilers during a 41-game injury-riddled campaign in 2022-23 that was drastically reduced by a cut wrist he sustained against the Tampa Bay Lightning in November, derailing the momentum he’d built from a stellar start to his tenure in Oil Country.
With a clean bill of health heading into Training Camp, the winger hopes that 2023-24 will go uninterrupted as his first complete campaign for the Oilers as a big-time player for a Blue & Orange outfit that’s on the cusp of lifting a Stanley Cup.
“With the type of injuries I had, it’s not like they were groin or hip issues or anything like that,” Kane said in his end-of-season press conference. “They were injuries that I couldn’t really do anything about.
“I look forward to getting back healthy this summer and feeling 100 percent coming into camp.”
Following his fantastic debut in Blue & Orange during the second half of the 2021-22 NHL campaign, the prospect of Evander Kane spending a full season on a line with Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl in the Oilers top six was an exciting proposition for any coach, player, executive or fan in Oil Country to imagine.
“I’m excited to be an Edmonton Oiler,” Kane said after signing his first contract with the club. “To play with two of the best players in the world, this entire group of guys that have obviously worked hard and got themselves into a great position to make the playoffs here, I’m excited to add to that.”
The 31-year-old arrived in late January 2022 and immediately started bringing the heat after signing a one-year, $2.1 million AAV contract to play out the 2022-23 NHL season in Edmonton and boost the Oilers forward depth with his unique dynamic that blends skill, shooting, size and swagger.
“He’s big, strong and obviously he has a physical presence,” said defenceman Darnell Nurse. “He’s willing to fight anyone and at the same time, when he gets the puck in the right spots, it’s in the back of the net. With the passers and playmakers that we have on our team, to add that into the fold, it makes our team better.”
After posting an impressive 22 goals and 39 points in 43 games during the regular season, Kane came to play in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Vancouver, BC product tied for the post-season lead in goals alongside Nathan MacKinnon with 13 tucks in only 15 games — five matches fewer than the Colorado captain after the Edmonton lost out in the Western Conference Final to the eventual Cup winners.
Opportunity and optimism in the locker room swayed Kane to stay in Edmonton by announcing via Twitter late on a Tuesday night in July that he’d signed a four-year, $5.125 million AAV contract to remain with the Oilers long-term and serve as a pivotal piece of the club’s quest to bring another Stanley Cup back to Oil Country.
The ’22-23 season began exactly as it was billed for Kane, with the winger operating at nearly a point-per-game pace with 13 points (5G, 8A) in 14 games, including his fifth-career hat-trick in a 7-4 win over the Nashville Predators on Nov. 1 at Rogers Place, as the Oilers travelled to Tampa Bay to face the Lightning for the second of back-to-back games.
However, Kane’s season would take a sharp, scary and unpredictable turn in the second period. The winger was taken into the boards by defenceman Phillipe Myers and fell to the ice, where his wrist was cut after meeting the skate of former Oilers forward Pat Maroon.
“All of sudden, he was rushing as fast as I’ve seen and his eyes were as wide as a person’s can be,” Oilers captain Connor McDavid said. “Obviously, we got the sense of how alarming it was and how scared he was and we’re all scared for him. It’s obviously a situation that you don’t want to see.”
After being transported to the hospital in stable condition, where he underwent an emergency medical procedure, Kane took to Twitter this time to announce he was “on the mend” before linking back up with the Oilers four days later to an overwhelming reception of joy and relief from his teammates.
“He had a big smile on his face,” Woodcroft said after Kane returned. “I know the fellas were so excited to see him and see that he was OK. Just seeing that he’s OK, and then him being around his teammates, put a smile on everybody’s face today.”
Despite an expected three-to-four-month recovery period, Kane had already begun road-mapping his route back to the lineup and how he could continue to impact the Oilers off the ice as an important veteran voice throughout his recovery.
“I brought him into the coaches’ room and we came up with a plan for his work off the ice. He was all excited about that,” Woodcroft said. “I think he’s got to heal up, but I also think it’s an opportunity when he heals up that the rest of his body heals up. It’s an opportunity for him to put some good work in too while he gets ready and the hand gets ready.”
It took 10 weeks for Kane to re-join the main Oilrs group for practice at Rogers Place on Jan. 16 prior to a visit from the Seattle Kraken the following night — well ahead of his initial three-to-four-month timeline. The winger was raring to return to the lineup and knew that an injury of this magnitude would be hard to fully heal from at any point during the season, but that wasn’t about to stop him from contributing down the stretch.
“I don’t know if it’s ever going to be full strength, at least this season, but I feel it’s as good as it’s going to be for a decent stretch of time here,” Kane said. “I think the shooting is where it needs to be successful. I can’t really give you a gauge. Is it 100 percent? No, but I’m coming back with no excuses when I do come back.”
Kane returned to the lineup for nine games, recording four goals and two assists, but injuries remained the story of his season. The winger suffered a rib injury in a 5-4 shootout loss to the New York Rangers that inevitably knocked his total for missed games during the 2021-22 campaign to 40 games prior to his second return from injury on Mar. 9 for a date with the Boston Bruins at TD Garden.
Trade Deadline acquisition Mattias Ekholm had yet to share the ice with Kane as a teammate, but developed a first-hand understanding of the impact the winger can have from his time as a member of the Nashville Predators attempting to defend against his dynamic skillset that has no shortage of size, tenacity, shooting ability and skill.
“To state the obvious, he’s a goalscorer and he’s done this for years and he’s really fast,” he said. “He’s a great forward, but as you’re saying, he’s a bit intimidating too for D-men to play against. He usually draws heavy matchups. I’ve drawn the heavy matchups for a bunch in my career, and I know usually those guys are the small, skilled guys, but here comes the guy that’s your age, he’s your height, he’s your size. He’s intimidating.
“That’s usually what happens when you bring a guy like that into the lineup — all the other guys grow a little bit, right? So just aside from what he does as a forward, I think that’s the biggest thing.”
After returning to the lineup during Edmonton’s stretch run to the playoffs, Kane posted his second hat-trick of the season in Seattle on Mar. 18 before notching the 300th goal of his career against the Vegas Golden Knights on Mar. 29 as the second of three Oilers to do it on consecutive nights.
The following game, Kane would supply eight hits, score a goal and play a role on the penalty kill in a 2-0 shutout of the Los Angeles Kings as the 32-year-old was able to showcase some of that strong versatility that would benefit the Oilers heading into the business end of their season.
“Happy for him,” Woodcroft said of Kane. “He’s a warrior. He plays through injuries. He’s just getting up and running again just because of his injuries and whatnot. It’s kind of been a start-and-stop season for him, but he’s been all around the puck in any game that he’s played.”
“The good news is there’s not a lot of miles on that chassis this year. He’s just kind of rounding into form at the right time of year, and we need him.”
Kane’s physicality and tenacity shined in the postseason over a pair of heavy matchups against the Kings and Golden Knights that reached a boiling point in Game 2 of their second-round series in Vegas.
After scrumming in the corner with the Golden Knights’ Keegan Kolesar, Kane blew his now-famous kiss to a fan that made its rounds on social media, but Vegas would get the last laugh by eliminating the Oilers in six games before lifting the Stanley Cup.
He wasn’t able to reach the heights of his 13 goals in 15 games during the 2022 Playoffs, as you can expect coming off such a serious wrist injury, but the Vancouver product had a clear understanding of how he could impact the game as a pest in his opponents’ sides — even as he played through yet another injury with a broken finger.
“I’d be lying to you if I said [injuries] don’t factor into the rhythm of a season or how you feel, but at the same time, I take it upon myself as an individual to kind of see what the team needs or get a feeling of what the team needs — whether that’s for a particular game or a particular series,” he said.
“It’s about how you play in other areas of the game and different things that you can bring to help create a winning environment, and I’m willing to obviously play those roles and do those things at the same time.”
After an anomaly of a season where unexpected injuries hampered his impact, Evander Kane is hoping the 2023-24 NHL campaign will be his first full season in an Oilers uniform and one he completes at full health after a summer of recovery.
“There’s still some numbness and all, but I have full mobility. I feel good on the ice,” Kane said on 630CHED’s Oilers Now with Bob Stauffer earlier in August. “I feel that I’m able to perform the way I need to perform when it comes to that and some other issues that I dealt with after I came back from the wrist injury, which wasn’t great at the time, but the body’s feeling good now.
“I’ve had some rest back on the ice and I’m back in the gym, so we’ll be ready to go come training camp and Game 1 of the regular season.”