EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers went 6-1 in their pre-season. So did Detroit and Toronto, and it makes one wonder: Does 6-1 feel as meaningless in those two cities as it does in Edmonton?
Sure, you’d rather win than lose. Duh. But after what occurred here last season, a bunch of superior exhibition efforts may pique some interest locally, but it isn’t going to sway any betting lines.
What does 6-1 mean to head coach Todd McLellan?
“It’s over,” he said of the pre-season, which actually includes one more tilt in Cologne, Germany this Wednesday.
“I liked camp. Guys came in ready to work, ready to listen,” said McDavid, who notched a goal and an assist in a 4-3 win over the Calgary Flames Saturday afternoon. “But the hard work is only getting started. The pace of the play and the intensity of the games is only going to go up from here.”
So, how real is it? Is an Oilers team that has been better than most every opponent during camp ready for an impossibly wicked start to their season, one that goes New Jersey (in Gothenburg, Sweden), Boston, New York Rangers, Winnipeg, Boston, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Washington, Nashville?
Let’s break down the Oilers camp, and see how many boxes they actually checked off:
• Of all the things that have to happen for the Oilers to be a playoff team again, none of them will be impactful without Cam Talbot reacquiring his ‘A’ game.
Talbot entered Saturday’s game with a .951 save percentage and proceeded to stop 39 of 42 shots. He was sabre-sharp throughout the pre-season, allowing the Oilers to check off the most important box they had — their nets.
“Cam was tremendous,” McLellan said. “There’s a check mark there.”
• The right wing was supposed to be an area of weakness, but as camp winds down, Ty Rattie, Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi have turned it into a pre-season strength, combining for 17 goals. On his 20th birthday Saturday, Yamamoto had two more goals to finish his North American pre-season with 6-3-9.
Look, no one expects this level of production to last, and with three younger players, you know there will be some slumps along the way. But the fact there are three of them — four if you count Tobias Rieder — suggests that there should always be at least one or two guys going well to use in the top six.
Depth and internal competition are two terms we never thought we’d be using about the Oilers’ right side.
“The right wing position was challenged,” McLellan acknowledged, “and they accepted that challenge.”
• Two young, right-shot, offensive-minded defencemen emerged this September, on a blue line that lacked both righties and guys who can put up some points. Now, the fact that Evan Bouchard and Ethan Bear have perhaps both earned spots inside the top seven is extremely promising, even it is also facilitated by the fact folks here aren’t so sure if Jakub Jerabek is an NHL defenceman.
Whether they play here for all of this season, or just part, Bear (21 years old) and Bouchard (18) give Edmonton a promising pair of power-play D-men for years to come.
• Perhaps it’s worthy of mention that McDavid, the two-time reigning Art Ross Trophy winner, appears to be about to launch an assault on the NHL scoring race not yet seen in his young career. In four pre-season games, he had four goals and 11 points.
He has talked about wanting to score more, and this season he gets the crafty Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on his left side, and will open with Rattie (7-4-11 in the pre-season) on his right. It is as if the Oilers captain has found an extra step, despite already being far and away the fastest skater in the NHL.
All signs point to a historic season for McDavid, which by itself should make Edmonton a playoff contender.
• The Flames led this game 3-1 in the first period, before Edmonton took it back to win 4-3. But it’s pre-season, right? It doesn’t matter, right?
Well, it does here. This fall, it matters.
“Think back to last year,” McDavid said of an early 3-1 deficit. “Next thing you know, we’re down 4- or 5-1, and the game’s over.”
So far, so good.
They’re winning their games. It’s not the Oilers’ fault they don’t count yet.