EDMONTON — And so we have a theme in Edmonton, a few months after being swept by the Winnipeg Jets and a week before the doors open to training camp 2021-22.
One day after Oilers general manager Ken Holland proclaimed “The time is now” for his team to become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, his captain echoed him word for word in a media availability at Rogers Place.
“The time is now,” said Connor McDavid, unprompted. “I’m 24 years old. Drai and Nursey are 25, 26 years old. Nuge, 28. So the old excuse that we’re young guys is no longer. As a group, the time is now to start really pushing this thing.
“Kenny has done his job. He’s gone out and added some pieces. It’s on us now to put the thing together.”
It is easy to say those things, of course. You’ll hear players talk about the “ultimate goal” this fall who play on teams that would have to buy a ticket to the Hockey Hall of Fame to get anywhere near a Stanley Cup this season.
But that does not define Edmonton, or McDavid, whose team has checked many of the boxes that must be checked on that long climb from obscurity to being among that elite group of teams with a chance to hoist.
As of today, the best player in the world has been affixed with Zach Hyman on his left wing, some important faceoff help in Derek Ryan, and a third-line left winger in Warren Foegele who will help assuage the lack of support scoring that has plagued this team. Those players join Leon Draisaitl, who would be the best player on perhaps 20 other teams in the NHL. Jesse Puljujarvi, for whom the sky is the limit. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a productive, skilled professional who can trade pucks with the most elite centres.
On defence, Duncan Keith is a better player than the departed Caleb Jones, while partner Cody Ceci should be an adequate replacement for Adam Larsson on pairing No. 2. With an emerging Darnell Nurse and elite offence-man Tyson Barrie on the top pairing, plenty of talent among Evan Bouchard, Slater Koekkoek, Kris Russell and legit prospects in Philip Broberg and Dmitri Samorukov for pairing No. 3, Edmonton’s defence better this season than last.
Their skaters — as a whole — are better this season than last. As such, so are their chances of winning games without McDavid and Draisaitl leading the way are better.
“We’ve added some speed up front, some tenacity. Guys who work hard,” McDavid assessed. “To see Foegele, (Hyman), Ryan, and how hard they work, these are all guys who are well respected around the league and very good at what they do.
“I like (Keith’s) intensity, he skates so well, and he’s one of those guys who has played in every big game there is to play in,” McDavid continued. “He has a big, veteran voice … in the room. Talking to him after the trade, he seems like a very motivated guy. I certainly like a motivated Duncan Keith on my team.”
With an Olympics on his horizon, and a playoff spot very much a reality in the weak Pacific Division, McDavid knows this could be a year where things begin to turn in his career. Where individual success meets team success, which is undoubtedly the goal of the man who wants to play in the magnitude of games that will further entrench him as the best hockey player in the world today.
We’ve waited a long time to see McDavid play in the kinds of games that Sidney Crosby played in. To have the stage that Wayne Gretzky inhabited, under the spotlights that shone on Mario Lemieux.
Maybe, just maybe, they’re right.
Maybe the time is now.
“Kenny and the management team did a great job, now it’s on the coaching staff and the players to put it together,” McDavid said. “We’ve been building something here for the last couple of years.
“It’s time to put it all together.”