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Oilers sights set on hoisting Stanley Cup after string of tough playoff exits

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl - The Canadian Press

EDMONTON — The road to the Stanley Cup has gone through Edmonton the last two NHL campaigns.

The Oilers fell to eventual champion Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference final in 2021-22. A year later, Edmonton was ousted in the second round by the Vegas Golden Knights, who later won it all.

The theme at Oilers training camp was evident: Cup or bust.

“Obviously, there’s one goal here,” said forward Leon Draisaitl. “Whether that pans out that way, we’ll see. One thing that’s guaranteed is we’ll do everything in our power to achieve our goal and get to that point. We’re excited for the year.”

“I think we’re in a good spot,” said reigning NHL MVP Connor McDavid as the Oilers headed down the final stretch of camp. “We’ve handled everything that’s been thrown our way here at camp. I feel like we’re starting to see things that we want to see out of our game.”

No other team boasted a trio of 100-point players last season like Edmonton. McDavid had 153, Draisaitl finished with 128 and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins added 104. Behind them, Zach Hyman enjoyed a 36-goal campaign.

Between that firepower and the best power play the league has seen in a generation, there are no question marks around the offence. The Oilers were the highest-scoring team in the NHL last season with 325 goals, 20 more than second-place Boston.

The power play, which worked at a 32.3 per cent clip in the regular season, had a ridiculous 46.2 per cent success rate in the post-season.

With that, there has been an increased emphasis on keeping pucks out of the net. Edmonton hopes to see the Stuart Skinner that was a Calder Trophy candidate in the regular season and for Jack Campbell to have a bounceback season.

Skinner took over as the starting goalie after Campbell struggled in 2022-23 and won 29 games, while boasting a .914 save percentage. But Skinner struggled in the playoffs, and shouldered much of the blame for the loss to Vegas. His save percentage dipped to just .883 in the post-season.

Bringing in high-priced vets is not a luxury general manager Ken Holland can afford, either, being up against the salary cap ceiling.

With only a couple of tweaks made to an established core group, head coach Jay Woodcroft hasn't had to worry about evaluating new faces. Instead, training camp was used to work on the little things.

“That is where the majority of our focus in training camp has been — on the defensive side of things,” said Woodcroft after the opening week of camp. “We’re seeing some positive results.”

McDavid said it’s all about having the system down.

“You want to see the system in play,” he said. “You want to see guys dialing into the details, the little parts of the game that summer habits can affect: stopping on pucks, being in battles and being in shot lanes.”


Forwards Kailer Yamamoto and Klim Kostin were traded to clear cap space. Centre Nick Bjugstad, acquired from the Arizona Coyotes at the trade deadline, returned to the desert in free agency.

Power forward Connor Brown was the biggest addition of the off-season.

Brown was limited to just four games in Washington last year having torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He’s had 20-goal seasons in both Ottawa and Toronto.

A decade ago, Brown was a veteran with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, and had 128 points in his final season of junior hockey. A young McDavid made his debut with Erie that same year.

Brown was placed on a line with McDavid and Evander Kane in pre-season play.

“Hard worker, somebody who can make plays in tight spaces,” Woodcroft said of Brown. “He traded the puck nicely with Kane and Connor at different points. I think he is going to fit our team in a great way.”

But right from the start of camp, Brown warned against falling too in love with the “two Connors as linemates” storyline.

“It’s a long season, I’m sure I will play on a ton of different lines.”


Winger Ryan McLeod missed most of training camp with an undisclosed injury, while defenceman Mattias Ekholm had been held back with a hip flexor issue.

“He’ll be in our lineup opening night,” Woodcroft said of McLeod.

When asked if he can play on opening night, Ekholm said, “Anything can happen, but it’s taken a lot longer than I thought.”


The Oilers host the Calgary Flames in the Heritage Classic on Oct. 29. A full house is expected at Commonwealth Stadium, the venue that hosted the first outdoor game of the modern NHL era.

Reigning champion Vegas will visit Edmonton on Nov. 28 and April 10. And the Auston Matthews-McDavid rivalry is back when the Leafs face the Oilers on Jan. 16 in Edmonton, and March 23 in Toronto.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 8, 2023.