McDavid, Oilers hungry for success after last season's third-round sweep

Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid speaks on his squad heading into a new season, saying that keeping the puck out of the net is their focus and discussing the addition of goalie Jack Campbell to the lineup.

EDMONTON — Connor McDavid arrived in Edmonton clean-shaven with a tidy new haircut. The hockey hair, the red beard, that was last year. And last year is ancient history around here. 

If there is an analogy to be made, it would be found somewhere in the early theme that has arisen here at the Captain’s Skates, where pretty much every player of consequence has returned to Edmonton early, a positive sign of the engagement level this fall. 

The hair is short, and so are the memories. 

“I mean, we really only won one more game (last spring) than we did in 2017,” the Oilers captain said, referencing the team's eight playoff wins in ‘22 and seven in ’17. “It feels like we were closer last year than the previous years, but it’s just one more win. So we've got a long ways to go.” 

What does it take to improve on a berth in the Western Conference Final? 

“It takes everybody and it takes all season long.” 

It was just five short seasons ago when the Oilers came to camp after having taken the Anaheim Ducks to seven games in Round 2. They very well could have won that series, if not for a horrible last four minutes of Game 5 and some snaky officiating along the way. 

But either way, the assumption was that the Oilers were going to kill it in 2017-18. The curse was over, baby, and this team was for real. 

Then the season started, and Edmonton won one of its first five games, two of its first 11, and by American Thanksgiving the Oilers had a record of 8-12-2. They were cooked like John Madden’s Tur-duck-en, a tidy lesson in thinking a seat at the playoff table was guaranteed based off something you did 12 months before. 

“We’ve done this in 2017, and the next year we missed the playoffs, right?” Leon Draisaitl reminded everyone last week. “So we know how hard it is to get back there. We know what it’s like and how much work you have to put in over 82 games to even get a chance. So we’re starting from Game 1, we're trying to build our game, and get better from there on.” 

What you are hearing is the difference between the 20- or 21-year-old leadership this team had back in 2017, and the mid- to late-20s group that runs this dressing room today. 

If you'd have told 20-year-old Connor McDavid that he still wouldn’t have an Olympic or senior Team Canada appearance under his belt five years down the road, he’d have thought you an imbecile — even if he’d never have said it. If you’d have told him his team would miss the playoffs in ’18 and ’19, then fail to win a round in ’20 or ’21, he may have laughed out loud. 

But a lack of team success has a way of focussing a player of McDavid’s import. So he has come to Edmonton this fall with a mind to start his team down a path that will end differently than last year’s sweep in the Western Conference Final. And today, his supporting cast isn’t a bunch of young-20’s studs. 

They are Draisaitl, 26, Darnell Nurse, 27, Zach Hyman, 30, Evander Kane, 31. Cody Ceci is 28, while Tyson Barrie is 31. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is 29, and will likely pass the 750-game plateau this season. 

“It’s the shortest summer I’ve had so far, which is obviously a good thing. The buzz around the room is excitement and eager to get going again,” he admitted. 

So when do things begin to get serious? 

“It starts right away,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “The attitude for everybody has been, we’re working right from the get go here. The skates have been good, the workouts have been good and … Connor kind of leads away in that regard.” 

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