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New leadership adds to Edmonton Oilers optimism

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- When the Edmonton Oilers ended another disappointing season in April, there was little reason for optimism heading toward the next one.

Despite three No. 1 draft picks in the lineup, the Oilers were unable to make headway in the standings and finished 13th in the Western Conference, six points ahead of the last-place Arizona Coyotes.

Edmonton missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the ninth consecutive season, fired coach Dallas Eakins less than a year and a half into a four-year contract, and seemed a long way from respectability.

Under general manager Craig MacTavish, the plan was to stay the course and hope the roster would come of age and lift the Oilers into contention. But the Oilers unexpectedly won the NHL Draft Lottery for the fourth time in six years, resulting in a major management shakeup.

"[The fans] should be excited; there has been a lot of great changes, and they've brought in a lot of great hockey minds," No. 1 pick Connor McDavid said in early July at development camp. "They made a couple of trades and signed a couple of free agents that are very good players. I think there are a lot of reasons to be excited about this franchise moving forward."

Here are four reasons the Oilers should be optimistic:

Connor McDavid: By virtue of the lottery, the Oilers won the right to select a player considered to be the NHL's next generational star. If McDavid lives up to his potential, he will become the latest in a long list of standouts to play for the Oilers. With McDavid on the way, Edmonton returned as an NHL destination seemingly overnight. The Oilers made changes in management and hired a new coaching staff. McDavid, 18, joins other young talent in Edmonton, including three recent No. 1 picks (Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov) and early first-round selections Jordan Eberle and Benoit Pouliot.

Peter Chiarelli: When the former Boston Bruins general manager became available, the Oilers moved quickly to hire him despite having a GM in place. Chiarelli replaced MacTavish and hired Todd McLellan as coach to replace interim coach Todd Nelson. Chiarelli identified one of the Oilers' weaknesses during their rebuilding process and fired most of the scouting staff. He addressed a need by trading for goalie Cam Talbot, and added depth to the defensemen by signing free agent Andrej Sekera and trading for Eric Gryba. With an experienced GM, the Oilers believe their young, talented players are in good hands.

Todd McLellan: The coaching carousel is likely to stop with the hiring of the experienced and successful former San Jose Sharks coach. McLellan missed the playoffs once in seven seasons with the Sharks. He is the Oilers 14th coach, seventh in the past eight seasons.

Cam Talbot: The Oilers allowed the most goals in the NHL the past two seasons, and goalies Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth struggled last season. In an effort to improve, the Oilers acquired Talbot in a trade with the New York Rangers at the 2015 NHL Draft in June. Talbot had an excellent season behind Henrik Lundqvist, playing an NHL career-high 36 games with a 2.21 goals against average and .926 save percentage. Talbot played particularly well filling in after Lundqvist sustained a vascular injury in his neck, going 17-4-3 with two shutouts while Lundqvist was out. The Oilers believe, given the opportunity, Talbot will be an excellent starting goaltender in the NHL.

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