Entering the 2022-23 season, the Edmonton Oilers were being viewed as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Those expectations have been tempered early on, however, as they own a rather disappointing 8-7-0 record through 15 games.
There are a number of reasons for their early struggles: poor goaltending, an underwhelming blue line, and little to no offence from the bottom of the roster.
Unfortunately, their offence took a major blow in a recent game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, as Evander Kane suffered a horrific injury after being cut on the arm by Patrick Maroon’s skate, and is expected to miss up to four months as a result. While this injury is far from ideal, it will provide an opportunity for one of several struggling Oilers forwards to be elevated in the lineup.
One such player who has been given that opportunity thus far is Jesse Puljujarvi, who has been able to spend each of the past two games alongside Connor McDavid. The 24-year-old entered the 2022-23 campaign after being subjected to trade rumours all summer long, and admitted he needed to play at a higher and more consistent level moving forward.
That hasn’t happened to this point, as the Finnish winger has an extremely disappointing two points through 15 games. The team is giving him an opportunity to improve on those totals alongside McDavid, but may not be able to continue to do so if his struggles drag on much longer. That said, the hope may be he can begin producing enough to boost his trade value, which Ken Holland could use in order to gain some cap relief.
Another winger who has struggled immensely to begin the season but may be given an opportunity to move up in the lineup is Kailer Yamamoto. In fact, had it not been for an injury that kept him out of the Oilers' most recent game against the Carolina Hurricanes, he may have replaced Puljujarvi alongside McDavid.
While Yamamoto also battled consistency issues in 2021-22, his 20 goals and 41 points had many optimistic he would be primed for a big year ahead. That hasn’t been the case, as he is goalless and has just three assists through 13 games. If his injury turns out to be just a minor issue, he has a great opportunity to get things going in the absence of Kane.
There is also Warren Foegele, who has largely disappointed since being acquired in a trade from the Hurricanes that saw Ethan Bear head the other way two summers ago. He has become somewhat of a whipping boy amongst Oilers fans, and hasn’t helped his cause to begin the 2022-23 campaign with just a goal and two points in his first 14 games.
The good news for Foegele, and why he may soon be granted an opportunity to move up in the lineup, is because he played not only his best game of the season against the Lightning on Tuesday, but perhaps the best game of his entire Oilers tenure. He scored his first goal of the year, created several chances and was on the ice in the dying seconds of the game protecting a one-goal lead. By all accounts, head coach Jay Woodcroft is a fan of his game, which bodes well for him getting a bigger opportunity moving forward.
The last — and perhaps most intriguing — option of the bunch is rookie Dylan Holloway. The 21-year-old had a fantastic preseason, leading to expectations that he would have a top-six spot in the lineup from the get-go. That hasn’t been the case, however, as some ugly mistakes during inopportune times have resulted in him averaging less than nine minutes per game through his first 11 contests.
With that said, he was elevated back to a top-six role on Thursday night versus the Canes, and played over 15 minutes, most of which came alongside Leon Draisaitl and Zach Hyman. He has a ton of skill and if he is able to continue playing on a line with one of the world's best in Draisaitl, perhaps he will be the player who is able to benefit the most while Kane is out of the lineup.
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