Potent Edmonton Oilers able to contend for Stanley Cup
EDMONTON — The Oilers have finished an eight-game pre-season schedule — and the veterans can’t wait for the real games to start.
“It’s nice to have one or two games, but I think you want to get ready to go and play when it counts,” said winger Evander Kane. “I think we should chop it to four (games), I think that makes the most sense, for players, anyways. There are bigger camps, more guys playing, and more players getting experience. But, as a veteran guy, it’d be nice to tone it down to four or five.”
Can you blame Kane for thinking that camp goes on too long? After a run to the NHL’s Western Conference Final last season, players and fans want the Oilers team to pick up where it left off. They simply can’t wait to get going.
This is a team and fan base that harbor legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations for the first time since the Oilers lost to Carolina in a seven-game championship series back in 2006.
The 2021-22 season began with the Oilers “going up and down like a toilet seat,” according to the words of president and general manager Ken Hollard. There were hot streaks, then long cold streaks. It was hard to get a feel if this was going to be yet another disappointing season, or if there was indeed something special, here. Dave Tippett was relieved of his coaching duties in February, and the Oilers were one of the NHL’s hottest teams down the stretch under the guidance of Jay Woodcroft.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl soared to the expected 100-point-plus seasons. Kane, acquired halfway through the season, finally gave McDavid a true power-forward option on his wing, and they clicked immediately. The 31-year old veteran from Vancouver finished with 22 goals in just 43 games, then added 13 more in the playoffs. He has 40-goal potential, possibly 50. Ex-Leaf Zach Hyman put up 27 goals, too.
The re-signing of Kane to a four-year deal was a watershed moment for this team. For a fan base that’s used to seeing star players leave town the second they enter free agency, it’s significant for a player of Kane’s caliber choose to settle down in the Alberta capital.
The urgency is real.
McDavid, has won the Hart Trophy twice. Draisaitl has twice been a 50-goal scorer. You’ve either got them in the hockey pool, or you want them. But, McDavid said his legacy can’t be measured just by individual accolades.
“This team has kind of done the individual awards thing and the stats and all that,” said McDavid. “Our focus is on team only, winning games and getting ourselves to a good spot to continue to take steps forward.”
But, despite the pedigree on the top two lines, McDavid said it’s important that the Oilers keep reinventing themselves. New looks on the power play. New ways to attack the net.
“Our power play has been successful for a long time, but I felt, throughout the year, teams were getting used to the same old look,” said McDavid. “So we’re continuing to throw new looks. Throwing little wrinkles into your game is so important, today’s game is so well-coached, it’s so well pre-scouted, you have to make little adjustments here and there.”
And, with the addition of former Leaf Jack Campbell in net, who won 31 games last season, the feeling is that this is the Oilers time. With McDavid, Draisaitl, Kane, Hyman all spread out on the top two lines and the power play, there are echoes of the 1980s when it comes to the offensive firepower of this team.
Campbell comes to Edmonton from Toronto — so he’s had the unique perspective of playing goal behind one offensive juggernaut, then going to another. How does a goalie’s mindset change when they know that there won’t be a lot of 2-1 games? “I guess at the end of the day, my job is to keep the puck out,” said Campbell. “But it gives you a lot of confidence to get back in games, that we can score some goals. It definitely eases the pressure.”
The first thing Oilers fans do when they see the NHL schedule is circle the dates that the Calgary Flames are in town. The Flames visit the Oilers on Oct. 15, and that’s it for games between the two at Rogers Place. They play at the Saddledome Oct. 29 and Dec. 27
The reunion between Jack Campbell, Zach Hyman and the rest of the former Leafs on the Oilers roster has to wait until March 1, when Toronto visits Rogers Place. They face each other again on March 11 at the Scotiabank Centre.
And, the rematch of the Western Conference Final goes Jan. 7, when Nathan MacKinnon and the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche visit Rogers Place.
If there were trophies handed out to players who had the most impressive training camps, the Oilers would be giving one to winger Dylan Holloway. The former first-round pick was playing on the second line closer to the end of camp, and had a hat trick in a win over Winnipeg. The former University of Wisconsin star said he’s overcome wrist issues that plagued his 2021-22 AHL season.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 9, 2022.
Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press