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FEATURE: Why Blackhawks-Oilers Could be Best of Qualifying Round Slate

With Kane, Toews, McDavid and Draisaitl in tow, Chicago and Edmonton set for must-watch Return to Play matchup

by Carter Baum @CarterBaum / Blackhawks.com

Across the eight Qualifying Round matchups set to begin when NHL play resumes on August 1, it's hard to argue that there's a more exciting series -- at least on paper -- than the one the Blackhawks will open against the Edmonton Oilers. 

Patrick Kane, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have combined to win the Art Ross Trophy as the league's point leader in four of the last five seasons. The latter pair occupy the top two spots in NHL scoring with 97 and 110 points on the year, respectively, with two of the five highest points-per-game averages the game has seen over the last 15 seasons. Kane finished eighth with 84 points, the fifth time in his career he's reached 80 points with four coming over the last seasons years as Showtime gets even better with age.  

You can't mention Kane, though, without Jonathan Toews. Consistently one of the best two-way centers in the game, he's coming off two straight seasons of his best offensive output since the 2013-14 campaign -- finding his stride over the back half of the schedule with 32 points in 29 games this calendar year. On the faceoff dot, he's one of the league's best too, winning 57.3 percent of his draws.

On those four names alone, it's a fan's dream postseason matchup loaded with offensive talent. Kane and Toews have proven time and again to count on them when it counts most, each with three Cups and a Conn Smythe Trophy to his name. McDavid and Draisaitl have just 13 games apiece in postseason experience, but combined for 25 points during their lone appearance three seasons ago and have only matured as team leaders since. 

Now, add to the mix the plethora of other offensive threats both rosters boast. The Blackhawks have seen major contributions from rookie goal scoring leader Dominik Kubalik and veteran Brandon Saad, who was one of Chicago's most consistent contributors since returning from injury on Jan. 18. The Oilers have forward Kailer Yamamoto, who had 26 points in 27 games dating back to his season debut on New Year's Eve, as well as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who had 61 points this season and was on a career-best pace. 

And finally, consider that, much like the beginning of an NHL season, scoring could naturally skyrocket across the 24 teams playing as they readjust to their defensive systems following a four-and-a-half-month layoff. With several of the game's top scorers going head-to-head in one series, look out.

Chicago and Edmonton is undoubtedly can't-miss hockey. 

"From a fan's perspective, for sure that would be an amazing round to watch," Kane told reporters last month. "I think it'd be exciting hockey, especially coming off a little bit of a lay off. Teams probably don't have their systems and defensive structure completely dialed in. Even though you'll have some time in training camp to try and do that, you can never truly simulate a true game situation."

Video: DeBrincat on matchup with Edmonton

Adding to the drama is the incredibly unique situation that is the hub city setup, where many of the normal postseason advantages are thrown out the window. All 12 teams from a conference will be largely confined to the same overall living space, sharing the same arena, without fans and without travel, in a shorter, best-of-five series to clinch an official playoff berth. And no team has any inkling of momentum coming into the tournament. 

The Qualifying Round will come down to who truly is the better team on a given handful of nights.

"It'll be interesting with the way that playoffs will go," Connor Murphy said excitedly of the postseason format as a whole. "There won't be home-ice advantage and having the first round be a lesser amount of games, it's just so unique. It'll be cool to see kind of the different obstacles it kind of brings up for both teams."

"It could go either way," Alex DeBrincat added. "It should be a fun series for sure."

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