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Expectations one of 'biggest challenges' for Oilers, GM says

Chiarelli hopes Edmonton makes 'natural progression' after reaching second round of playoffs

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

PENTICTON, British Columbia -- The Edmonton Oilers will try to stay in their comfort zone heading into a season of increased expectations.

"That will be one of our biggest challenges," general manager Peter Chiarelli said at the 2017 Young Stars Classic prospect tournament Friday. "There are a lot of new experiences that these guys will face. If you look through our lineup, outside of last year, there's not a lot of playoff experience or having success as a, well, I wouldn't call us a front-runner.

"So … how are we going to do this? We'll just have to work ourselves through it, a new experience, the same way as last year. Then, our goal was to make the playoffs and when you're in the playoffs, it's a better testing ground, a better development ground for your young guys. So this is the next step. Hopefully it's a natural progression."

After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for 10 seasons, the Oilers had a quick rise last season, finishing second in the Pacific Division with 103 points and reaching the Western Conference Second Round, where they lost to the Anaheim Ducks in seven games.

In the offseason, the Oilers gave long-term contracts to two of their key young players, center Connor McDavid and forward Leon Draisaitl. McDavid, 20, signed an eight-year extension worth $100 million (average annual value of $12.5 million) that begins next season. Draisaitl, 21, signed an eight-year, $68 million contract (average annual value of $8.5 million) as an unrestricted free agent.

Video: Connor McDavid takes the No. 1 spot

The dollars have increased in lockstep with the demands and hopes for the future.

When the Oilers got off to a 7-1-0 start and stayed in playoff contention throughout last season, Chiarelli's voice was rarely heard in public. His roster moves were also infrequent; the Oilers did acquire veteran center David Desharnais from the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 28 for depth prior to the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline, but made no major transactions during the season.

Chiarelli was content to remain in the background and let the Oilers grow organically.

"It's really not about the manager, it's about the players," said Chiarelli, 53. "That's what I learned when I entered the business. It's not about me. Obviously I'm the architect and I have a team behind me, the management team is important.

"But it's just not my style. Last year was nice to see the progression we had. It was nice to be part of it and be the one behind it. But [if] you're in this business long enough … it's just not me."

Chiarelli was the Ottawa Senators assistant general manager from 2004 to 2006, and the Boston Bruins GM from 2006 to 2015, winning the Stanley Cup in 2011. (The Senators made the Stanley Cup Final in 2007, one year after he was hired by Boston.)

His experience can be a huge asset in a passionate Canadian market when it comes to staying the course under even more scrutiny and pressure in the seasons ahead.

"Ottawa's different than Edmonton but it was the only show in town," said Chiarelli, who is from Nepean, Ontario, outside Ottawa. "It was passionate. It's where I grew up so it was special to me that way.

Video: ANA@EDM, Gm6: Draisaitl completes the hat trick

"In Boston, it was [an] Original Six [team], and competing with the other (Boston) franchises so you've got a bit of a chip on your shoulder vis-a-vis the other franchises, that you want to be at the forefront. Good success but different kind of building templates for both teams, and that gives you a good kind of perspective."

Chiarelli said he's eager to see Oilers forward prospect Kailer Yamamoto, the No. 22 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, at the Young Stars Classic, which began Friday and runs through Monday. The GM said Yamamoto (5-foot-8, 153 pounds), who turns 19 on Sept. 29, will likely play multiple games during the preseason.

"He's a pretty sturdy player," Chiarelli said. "With him it's about his quick thinking and his quick feet and quick edges.

"I think based on what we've seen and where he is in his game, I think he's going to get some games. It might take him a little while to get going here but he's a good player. You want to put him with good players but he's going to have to earn it."

Chiarelli also said that Oilers forward Anton Slepyshev, who injured his ankle during offseason training, is not hurt seriously.

"He may miss part of camp but it's not serious," Chiarelli said.

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