The time is at hand for the Edmonton Oilers to take the next step. The years of rebuilding are over for the franchise led by the dynamic forward duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
The retooled Oilers kick off the season Wednesday in Edmonton against the visiting Vancouver Canucks, but know their real test is to make noise in the playoffs.
“The playoffs are always going to be a different animal, and we haven’t found a way to be successful there,” said McDavid, who makes no secret that he expects to have second-season success. “We’ve got to find a way … to realize that certain things have to get done a different way. We might have to score goals the hard way, and all those types of things.”
After last spring’s shocking first-round sweep at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets, the Oilers made bold moves to add much-needed depth and experience, adding forwards Zach Hyman, Warren Foegele, Derek Ryan and defensemen Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci.
One departure of note was defenseman Adam Larsson, who signed with the Seattle Kraken as a free agent.
Having those players join a core that includes a versatile second-line player in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and a top-level young defenseman in Darnell Nurse, the Oilers could contend for the top spot in the Pacific Division.
“I’ve been here long enough to not have sky-high expectations,” said Nugent-Hopkins, who is going into his 11th NHL season and the team’s longest-serving player. “We have confidence in our abilities in here. We know what we can get done, but, at the same time, you say it every year that you want to make a push.”
The Canucks are looking to rebound after a horrible 2020-21 campaign, which they started by losing five of the first seven games, then appeared to right the ship before injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak that saw them finish with a 4-10-1 slide that sent them to the bottom of the all-Canadian North Division standings.
“We don’t have to sugarcoat it; last year wasn’t a good year and we want to come back flying,” captain Bo Horvat said. “I want to make the playoffs. That should be everybody’s mindset here. I think we brought in the right pieces to do that and we’ve just got to go out and prove it.”
As much as the disappointment could be chalked up to bad luck, the Canucks didn’t stand pat. On top of signing cornerstone players Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes to long-term deals, the Canucks added a top-pairing defenseman in Oliver Ekman-Larsson along with top-six forward Conor Garland from the Arizona Coyotes in a huge trade.
Vancouver also nabbed veteran goalie Jaroslav Halak to serve as the backup behind Thatcher Demko and plucked defenseman Tucker Poolman via trade with Winnipeg, a deal that saw defenseman Nate Schmidt go the other way. The Canucks also added to their depth by dealing for big forward Jason Dickinson from Dallas.
Simply not having to deal with so much adversity will help the Canucks improve, and those additions could give them a solid shot to make the playoffs.
“Making the playoffs (in 2019-20) and then having a letdown year like last year, we obviously were not happy at all,” forward Brock Boeser said. “We know we have to be better. With the additions we’ve made, I think we’re right there again.”
–Field Level Media