EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers signed another offensive player in Domink Kahun on Monday, and you can see why.
It is easy to justify how adding Kahun to countryman Leon Draisaitl’s left wing frees up Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to play alongside Connor McDavid, how Tyson Barrie will help your power play with Oscar Klefbom out, or how Jesse Puljujarvi will perhaps return a more polished player who is able to cash in 20 goals off the right side.
It is easy to forget, however, that the Oilers lost in four games in their qualifying-round series to the 12th-placed Chicago Blackhawks, a team that was dispensed of quickly in Round 1 by the Vegas Golden Knights. Edmonton finished second among all playoff teams, averaging 3.75 goals scored per game. So scoring wasn’t an issue for the Oilers.
The problem? The Oilers were dead last in having allowed four goals per game, and lost a series to a goalie (Corey Crawford) who registered a sub-.900 save percentage.
So having added Kahun, Puljujarvi, Barrie and Kyle Turris this off-season — none of whom are noted as defensive specialists — while returning the same goaltending tandem, we asked Oilers general manager Ken Holland how his team is better equipped to win a playoff game tied 2-2 after 40 minutes next season, than it was last season?
“That’s a fair question,” began Holland, noting that the team defended better last year than the season before. So they’re on the right track.
“Some of these players … if they’re put into a position where they have to defend, and they can’t, then somebody else is going to get an opportunity,” he said. “I think all players in the NHL can defend relatively well if they want to. If they’re determined enough. It’s easier to figure out how to defend than to figure out how to score.
“We’ve got to get a little more (five-on-five) offence,” he continued. “When it’s 1-1 in the third period, can we defend? That’s up to the players to dig in. I think we can teach some of these guys to defend. We need a little more five-on-five scoring other than our top players.”
The Toronto Maple Leafs have become the poster child for that good, offence-heavy regular-season team that can’t adjust to the abjectly different style of hockey played in the NHL playoffs. Is Edmonton becoming that team, adding only Barrie to their blue line and failing to improve on an iffy tandem in net?
As Holland said, that is a fair question. But Rome, as they say, wasn’t built in a day.
Holland’s primary concern is to maximize his two considerable assets in Draisaitl and McDavid, and the Kahun signing (one-year, $975,000) goes a long way towards that.
Last season, when Nugent-Hopkins solidified himself on a line with Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto, it left McDavid without a Top 6 winger. Kahun’s arrival puts Nugent-Hopkins on McDavid’s left flank from Day 1, and also makes right winger Zack Kassian a perfect fit for the trio.
I see Kahun, Tyler Ennis, and perhaps even players like Tyler Benson and Joakim Nygard platooning next to Draisaitl, with Puljujarvi a candidate to move up to the top six depending on his development. Holland has better offensive depth than we’ve seen here in years, which will ensure a playoff spot — even if we are still skeptical on Edmonton as a playoff contender.
“What we’re trying to do is get deeper,” he said. “I’m expecting a real compacted schedule, no matter how many games we play, and that means you get people injured. We do a lot of travelling and we want to have depth. Now the coaches have options.”
As for Kahun, he is that superstar in Europe still searching for the exact role that he can sink his teeth into over here. He had 206 points as a U-16 in Germany, and became very successful at dealing passes off the half-wall. Then he arrived in Chicago, where Patrick Kane held down that job on the power play. Then he went to Pittsburgh, where Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin owned that position.
“I think (that position) wasn’t available on any team I’ve played for in the NHL. I am used to that,” he said over the phone from Munich, where he is practising with his former DEL team. “I think I can make plays, and I have improved my skating. It’s pretty good too. I like to have the puck and make plays.”
He and Draisaitl go way back, with the Oilers centre pushing for his countryman’s acquisition since about 2018.
“We’re pretty close,” Kahun said of his buddy Draisaitl, with whom he shared a flat in Mannheim for three years. “We were 14 or 15 when we first met, and we lived together for three years and played all the junior national teams together. We didn’t always play on the same line, but sometimes the coach put us together when we need some goals, some offence. All the time when we come together it still seems to be clicking with each other. I hope it’s going (to) work out in Edmonton.”
The scouting report on Kahun is that he can get stuck out on the perimeter too often; that he prefers a tight turn once gaining the blue line, rather than taking the puck to the net. He will take on a support role next to Draisaitl, the reigning Hart and Art Ross Trophies winner. Kahun, 25, will quickly figure out what kind of left-winger Draisaitl requires, or the job will fall to the next man in line.
Kahun is confident that chemistry still exists. Presumably, so is Draisaitl.
But, chemistry on the expansive surfaces of European hockey does not always survive the trip overseas to the smaller, more physical arenas of the NHL.
“Totally agree,” allowed Holland. “I don’t know if they can make it work here or not, but I like that he has been in the NHL for two years. Why hasn’t he stayed in any one place? You don’t know. This is a new opportunity, and I am going to leave it up to the player and to (head coach) Dave Tippett to determine who’s on what line, who’s in what role.
“I don’t know if there is going to be chemistry between Leon and Dominik in the NHL, but I am expecting that Tipp is going to give them an opportunity.”