Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers awaits a face-off

EDMONTONConnor McDavid said he felt it was important for the Edmonton Oilers to get a jumpstart on the 2023-24 season after falling short of winning the Stanley Cup.

The Oilers captain asked his teammates to reconvene in Edmonton early, two weeks before the start of training camp, to participate in informal skates. The captain’s skates began at Rogers Place on Wednesday and will continue up until the start of training camp. Edmonton plays its first preseason game Sept. 24 against the Winnipeg Jets.

McDavid said the six-game loss to the eventual champion Vegas Golden Knights still stings, and the entire team was motivated to get back on the ice together as early as possible.

“I think is says a lot about where our group is at, everybody is dialed in, everybody is super-motivated, everybody is determined and everybody is in it together,” McDavid said Wednesday at Commonwealth Stadium, where the Oilers will host the Calgary Flames in the 2023 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic on Oct. 29.

“I think that’s kind of the message I’ve been feeling just with guys wanting to come back and make sure we’re all together for a couple of weeks before camp.”

Edmonton (50-23-9) finished second in the Pacific Division last season and was eliminated in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Vegas Golden Knights. Vegas went on to win the Stanley Cup for the first time, defeating the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final and Florida Panthers in the Final.

“I think it’s always good to train and skate together,” McDavid said. “I think just getting that camaraderie back is always a good thing; making sure everybody is in a good place come training camp is important. Just seeing a couple of guys here over the last couple of days, I think everybody’s had a great summer, everybody looks great, and we came back ready to go.”

McDavid reflects on Vegas loss, upcoming season

Edmonton returns the core of its roster this season, which includes forwards Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Zach Hyman and Evander Kane. The Oilers traded forwards Kailer Yamamoto and Klim Kostin to the Detroit Red Wings, making room under the NHL salary cap for forward Connor Brown, who was a junior teammate of McDavid with Erie of the Ontario Hockey League.

Brown signed a one-year, $4 million contract with Edmonton, coming off a knee injury, which limited him to four games with the Washington Capitals last season.

“I’m really excited about that, I don’t think you can ever have too many guys like ‘Brownie’,” McDavid said. “I think he plays the game very similar to Zach Hyman, just very tenacious. He’s a good guy in the room, super competitive, just wants to win at all costs and you can never have too many of those guys.”

Brown, 29, played on a line with McDavid in Erie and the two combined for 227 points in 2013-14. Brown had 128 points (45 goals, 83 assists) in 68 games and McDavid had 99 points (28 goals, 71 assists) in 56 games as a 16-year-old. McDavid believes the two can rediscover their junior chemistry in the NHL.

“I do think it’s possible,” McDavid said. “He’s coming off a very significant knee injury, so I think there has to be a little bit of grace period for him, but with that being said, I think he looks great. He’s put in a lot of hard work; he’s moving well and I’m sure he’s going to be great right off the bat.”

Another significant offseason change for Edmonton was the hiring of McDavid’s former agent Jeff Jackson as CEO of hockey operations. Jackson left his agency, Wasserman Hockey, to take over the position with the Oilers, replacing Bob Nicholson, who became a special adviser.

“I’m excited about ‘Jacks’ taking the role,” McDavid said. “I’ve worked with Jacks since I was 15 years old, and I know what he thinks and how he sees teams and organizations and all that. Obviously, he knows our group in and out with me being here and paying attention to what the Oilers have been up to, so he knows the Oilers well.”

McDavid has three years left on his contract, while Draisaitl is going into the second-to-last year of his deal. McDavid won the scoring race last season with 153 points (64 goals, 89 assists); Draisaitl finished second with 128 points (52 goals, 76 assists). Both are eligible to become unrestricted free agents at the end of their contracts, which adds a sense of urgency to trying to win the Stanley Cup within that time frame.

“I feel a sense of urgency every single year, it doesn’t matter about contracts or anything like that,” McDavid said. “I feel like our opportunity is here now, just with the age of our group and the stages that we’ve kind of gone through and steps. I feel really good about our group. I feel like everybody is in their prime.”

McDavid and Draisaitl spent the summer training together before coming to Edmonton to prepare for the season.

“Leon’s had an absolutely amazing summer,” McDavid said. “He’s put a lot of work into it, I know he’s super motivated, he looks great, and I would expect him to have a very good year.”

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