Oilers assistant coach: ‘This year we’re looking to take a step’

Newest Oiler Milan Lucic says the deciding factor to sign was Connor McDavid, but also says he's ready to provide the attitude and swagger that's been missing lately in Edmonton.

The Edmonton Oilers went into last season with a new GM, new coaching staff and new centrepiece with phenom Connor McDavid falling into their laps after an unlikely draft lottery win.

Despite all that, Edmonton once again finished at the bottom of the Western Conference with a 31-43-8 record and picked fourth overall in the 2016 NHL Draft where they got Jesse Puljujarvi. But although the Oilers brass had hoped for a better finish in 2015-16, assistant coach Jay Woodcroft said Year 1 with the new group was about setting the table and establishing a new, responsible system for the young group of players.

“Last year for us was about laying a foundation and playing the game the right way,” Woodcroft said on Sportsnet The Fan 590’s Andrew Walker Show. “We didn’t finish where we wanted to finish, but we felt there was some good work done. This year we’re looking to take a step.”

LISTEN: Oilers assistant Jay Woodcroft on The Andrew Walker Show

On top of acquiring Puljujarvi at the draft, the Oilers also signed power forward Milan Lucic after making a big splash in the trade pool, with the controversial Taylor Hall-for-Adam Larsson swap.

In that trade, the Oilers gave up one of the better young left wingers in the game, someone who has an 80-point season under his belt, but Woodcroft noted it was a necessary move to improve the team. Not because Hall did anything wrong, but because Larsson is just the type of player the Oilers lacked.

“Taylor was someone I enjoyed coaching and I wish him well, but our moves were made to try and improve our team going forward,” Woodcroft said. “In this league you have to give sometimes to get and we were able to land a right handed defenceman in Larsson. Peter (Chiarelli) and his staff did a good job landing Lucic. We’re about trying to be the best team we can be.”

Of course, we’ve heard this about the Oilers before, haven’t we? A young team flush with natural offensive talent and bursting at the seams with potential that was bound to break through — except it hasn’t happened. Whether it was because of a lack of toughness, structure, defensive responsibility or some combination, the Oilers have struggled mightily to break out of the losing culture that has dogged them for a decade.

This summer, with Lucic, they added some quality top-six toughness. With Larsson, they added a defensively responsible defenceman who can log a pile of minutes. They have a coaching staff that preached structure and “playing the game the right way” for a whole season, which they believe will start to pay off now.

And, of course, they have McDavid as the leader — someone expected to drive offence, but also set an example for other young players.

“Connor, as much as he is a great player, he’s a great person and a student of the game who takes his craft very seriously,” Woodcroft added. “He works at every little piece of his game.

“His success isn’t only measured in points. He has a huge effect on our group in playing the game the right way. When you see one of the most exciting players in the world play the game the right way, it resonates with our group.

“We’re excited about our prospects for the upcoming season.”

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