1) Connor Brown
Of the three players mentioned, Connor Brown undoubtedly has the most to prove on this four-game road trip. To say he’s disappointed so far in Edmonton, is a significant understatement.
Brown was brought in as the key offseason offensive signing for the Oilers. He was expected to improve the top six, in part due to his history with McDavid, when they both played for the Eerie Otters.
Instead, the 29-year-old has essentially done nothing so far in 2023-24. And by nothing we mean zero points in nine games, along with a -5 plus/minus rating which is the third-worst on the Oilers entering Saturday’s slate of NHL action.
There has been talk that maybe Brown still isn’t fully over the anterior cruciate ligament injury, which limited him to just four games last season in Washington. At the same time, he looked good enough during preseason, albeit we appreciate this isn’t the same level or intensity as the regular season.
On the subject of injuries, perhaps it was a blessing in disguise for everyone concerned that the Toronto native has been out recently, with a groin issue. However, this will end on Saturday afternoon, when he makes his return to the lineup in Tampa Bay.
Interestingly, Brown is set to take on a featured role in the top six upon his return. While there could be a change of plan prior to puck drop, it should be noted he saw playing time on the first line during practice on Friday morning.
This certainly seems like a strong show of faith from Knoblauch, although it’s tough to question anything the coach has done so far. Regardless, Brown’s return will also be significant for the Oilers in a financial sense.
This is because Saturday’s game will be the winger’s 10th with the Oilers. As a result, it will trigger a bonus payment in his contract worth $3.225 million, which will go against the team’s salary cap for next season.
To call it a performance-based bonus would be an insult, given how Brown has played up to this point. Regardless, as much as it’s the Oilers’ fault for offering such an incentive in the first place to a player coming off a serious injury, it’s now time for him to start proving his worth.