Young Oilers leaders and veterans are thirsty to write a new playoff story


EDMONTON – We waited for this to be real in Edmonton, how long?

Since their first No. 1 overall pick, Taylor Hall, in 2010? Since they picked number 1 in ’11 and ’12?

Since Edmonton finally added an experienced GM, hiring Peter Chiarelli in 2015?

From McLellan? From McDavid?

They had a great run for Game 7 of the second round in 2017, and we were all like, “OK. Finally. They will be a good team now, for a long time. ”

Then they missed the playoffs two years in a row.

Failure drove this franchise through four top picks, thanks to new general managers, new coaches, new game plans and road maps. Twelve of 13 missed playoffs heading into this season. Miss one more and it was history: in a 14-year window, the least successful franchise in National Hockey League history.

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Today, as the Oilers prepare to open their qualifying series on Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks, we are back to where we were three years ago. An Oilers team that looks incredibly promising, heading into a playoff series which, this time around, will surely be the first in a long series.

“We’re all just hungry to come back and play [playoff hockey], guys who have had that experience, ”said defenseman Darnell Nurse, one of the young inside leaders this team is built around. “Yeah, it was a great year, 2017. But the slackening came in the next two years. We are hungry to prove ourselves. That we are capable of being in that position and capable of playing at this level of hockey.

So what’s the difference now?

Why is football staying off the tee for Oilers fans this time around, as opposed to all those other times (like 2006) where the sky was the limit – and then it wasn’t?

And don’t tell me it’s because they have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They had these two players in 2018 and 2019 and missed the playoffs.

“These young, high-end talent have all matured,” said Dave Tippett, head coach and head psychologist in Edmonton. “They’re not just great players, but they’ve matured to figure out how to win a little bit in this league. ”

So, we are touching something here.

Previously, the best players were all between the ages of 20 and 21, and the so-called ‘leaders’ were often failed imports who couldn’t believe the right that was allowed to get worse among the young players who still had nothing. won. .

Now, these skilled young people ARE the leaders, for the most part. McDavid is 23, but mature beyond his years. Draisaitl is 24 years old and also an old soul. The nurse is 25, Oscar Klefbom 27. Not graying veterans but not teenagers either.

“Our leadership group is a little younger, but they’re engaged with the veterans on our team, and we’ve got better depth,” Tippett said. “Overall, we’ve been talking about building a team that’s not just competitive in the high-end skill area, but competitive in winning. We’ve made improvements to things you normally don’t think about when you think of a highly skilled team. “

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The older guys, the importers, fill roles that younger players have traditionally struggled with. Like the penalties for killing, an area that has plagued the Oilers for many, many seasons.

Today, veterans like Riley Sheahan, Josh Archibald, drafted and developed Jujhar Khaira, Kris Russell all take a KP in the playoffs that was better than any other team in the tournament.

Tippett’s Oilers have great skills on the blue line, but also have defensemen like Adam Larsson and Kris Russell doing the unquantifiable dirty work every night. Two guys who never do a flagship package – the same way Rob Scuderi, Ken Daneyko, Sami Pahlsson or John Madden never did.

They don’t have individual rewards for players like these. Just Stanley Cups.

“They are the heart and soul of our team,” Draisaitl said on a Zoom call this week, looking to his left where Larsson and Russell were seated. “We all know we can score and the fans love this part of the game a lot more, appreciate it more. But these guys often go unnoticed. They should be recognized. Rusty blocking shots, Larsson playing the minutes, the toughest competition against the other team every night. They set the tone.

The “tone” they set is simple: we’re not that old Oilers team that’s easy to play against. It would prefer the game not be painful or leave a bruise. It rushed home to catch up on the flagship lots, often scoring the second goal in a 5-2 loss.

Everyone is talking about the skill and speed of the Oilers. They have been doing this for a decade.

Now they are talking about parts of the game that were once easy wins for the opponent. Penalty killings, puck battles, discipline in a 1-1 game – that’s a problem for the Blackhawks now.

And isn’t this something new in these regions?


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