Was it the flat salary cap? Did the Buffalo Sabres just need to squirrel away the money for Eric Staal, Taylor Hall and Sam Reinhart? Whatever the reason, they let Dominik Kahun go. Now he’s an Edmonton Oiler at ridiculously low cost of $975,000 on a one-year pact. Depending on where he plays in their lineup in 2020-21, Kahun has potential to end up as the steal of the off-season.
The Czech-born German left winger, now 25, was undrafted but immediately made an impact when the Chicago Blackhawks, known for finding undrafted gems in Europe, scooped him in May 2018. He was an immediate impact player as a rookie in 2018-19, picking up 13 goals and 37 points in 82 games, finishing eighth and seventh in the freshman class in those two categories, respectively, and showing the versatility to play both wings.
But the solid depth roles he filled in Chicago and then, via trade, Pittsburgh and Buffalo don’t really do Kahun justice. He’s more than just a stopgap. Relative to his ice time, he’s been one of the more productive players in the league across his first two NHL seasons. During that stretch, 340 forwards have played 1,000 or more minutes at 5-on-5, and Kahun ranks 60th in points per 60, which easily rates him as a top-six forward. He’s 25th in primary assists per 60, indicating he’s a high-end play creator. His teams outscore opponents 87-64 with him on the ice at 5-on-5 so far in his career. His most common linemates in Chicago were Alex DeBrincat and Jonathan Toews, but Kahun rarely got much run with Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh, so Kahun doesn’t qualify as someone whose numbers have been padded by keeping elite company. He’s also faced tough competition in his career. For a snapshot: his most commonly forward faced is Nathan MacKinnon, and his most commonly faced defenseman is Alex Pietrangelo. Kahun’s list of opponents is dotted with big names.
His profile suggests he deserves a real shot to be a top-six forward. Will that be his role in Edmonton?
It’ll be interesting to see where Kahun fits. The first inclination might be ‘CONNOR MCDAVID LINEMATE!’ But Kahun’s profile shows he’s more of a complementary playmaking winger than a finisher. He feeds his teammates but, in that sample of 340 forwards over the past two seasons, he’s just 169th in shots per 60 and 229th in individual scoring chances per 60. McDavid needs a shooter more than he needs a puck distributor to play with. Given Kahun's countryman Leon Draisaitl is one of the game’s most prolific goal scorers, it might actually make more sense to play Kahun on the second line, especially since Kahun and Draisaitl are national-team linemates and thus have already developed their on-ice chemistry. Then again, would coach Dave Tippett want to break up Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto after they played so well together down the stretch in 2019-20?
Since Kahun has proven he can create plays for teammates, it could be prudent to try him on the third line with Kyle Turris. Whatever happens: these are good problems for Tippett to have. With Jesse Puljuarvi also back, the Oil look stronger and more versatile on the wings this season – even if they didn’t make a big, splashy edition.
At such a low price, there’s no risk in the Kahun deal. And yet, given what he’s shown in small sample sizes so far in his career, there’s a fair amount of reward potential. That makes the acquisition one of the shrewdest on paper so far this off-season.