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McDavid, Oilers know they must block out hype

Expectations high after second-place finish, playoff run

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

EDMONTON -- Higher seems to be the only option for those setting the bar for the Edmonton Oilers this season.

Is that going up a rung in the Pacific Division? Maybe finishing on top of the Western Conference?

The Oilers were second in the division with 103 points (47-26-9) in 2016-17, finishing behind the Anaheim Ducks (105).

Is it going deeper into the playoffs, to the Western Conference Final? Or maybe the Stanley Cup Final?

Edmonton reached the second round last season, losing to the Ducks in seven games.

It's been a quick rise into these conversations for the Oilers, who, before qualifying for the playoffs last season, hadn't been in the postseason since 2006.

 

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"Guys are ready to go," Oilers captain Connor McDavid said after practice Tuesday. "Guys have gone through that and it helps a lot that they know what it takes in those hard situations and in those situations where it may not be going our way.

"We know how to get out of those situations and what needs to be said about it. Those types of things, you can only learn them by going through it. We had never gone through it until last year."

There were situations to each extreme in 2016-17 for the Oilers, who play their season opener against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Place on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; SN, TVA Sports, NHL.TV). 

They want to channel the good, things like a strong 7-1-0 start or winning their final nine home games in the drive to lock down a playoff berth.

And they believe that remembering the bad should help them avoid similar potholes in the future, not that they weren't resilient last season.

The Oilers blew a 3-0 lead in the final 3:16 of the third period and lost 4-3 in the second overtime of Game 5 against the Ducks. They rallied to win Game 6 before losing Game 7.

During the regular season, there was plenty of angst during a 2-4-1 stretch from Feb. 24-March 12.

All the talk about deeper, higher, better and more is heard in the Oilers locker room.

"It's pretty hard (not to) sometimes, when you're communicating with the fans and the media," McDavid said. "It can get pretty hectic, so I thought our guys did a pretty good job of blocking that out (last season)."

Video: The guys discuss McDavid's impact on the Oilers

The talk itself makes no impact, McDavid said.

"It doesn't change anything, honestly," he said. "We expect ourselves to be a good hockey team and we always have. I always tell everyone this: When I came in, in my first year (2015-16), we expected to be a good hockey team. No one else did. And ultimately, we (weren't). And last year, I don't think anyone really thought we'd be very good, again. But internally we believed we'd be a good team and we were. I don't think outside expectation really affects anyone in this room, and that's the way it should be.

"Everyone has their own personal goals for the team and for themselves, and it's up to us to live up to those, not anyone else."

Last season will be helpful, but the Oilers aren't deep in experience when it comes to dealing with high expectations.

For that, they will look to left wing Milan Lucic, who won the Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011, and coach Todd McLellan, who was 311-163-66 and went to the playoffs six times in seven seasons as coach of the San Jose Sharks.

"If you're considered to be one of the teams that the 'experts' picked to have a chance, that means you've done a pretty good job with your organization," McLellan said. "But that all happens on paper and there hasn't been a single point awarded yet in the League.

"The tough part about that is that you have to come to play every night. You have to remember how hard it is to win the year prior. And you have to believe it's going to be tougher this year because people will be expecting a little more from you."

General manager Peter Chiarelli said he has asked players and coaches to ignore the hype surrounding the Oilers.

"What I said to the group at the beginning of the camp was, 'Eliminate all the white noise. Just bring your lunch pail every day and do your job and good things will happen,'" Chiarelli said. "It's a whole new dynamic. I feel it as a manager. Todd feels it as a coach.

"I like the way we dealt with the drive to get into the playoffs last year. I like the way we dealt with some adversity in the playoffs. I think there's a good level of character with this group. I would expect them to deal with it well, but it's a whole new ballgame when you're picked to contend."

The Oilers have a big head start in facing the challenge this season -- that the League's most dynamic player is ready to do more.

McDavid will seek to repeat as winner of the Art Ross Trophy as NHL scoring leader after he had 100 points (30 goals, 70 assists) in 82 games last season, when he won the Hart Trophy as League MVP and the Ted Lindsay Award as the most outstanding player in the NHL as voted by members of the NHL Players' Association.

"I accomplished being part of a good team," McDavid said. "I think that's all that's important, that as a team we were good and we managed to create some excitement in the city and around the hockey world."

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