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FEATURE: Facing Adversity

"Mistakes are going to happen. It's just a matter of riding through that and being positive," said Duncan Keith

by Tony Brar /

ST. LOUIS, MO - British philosopher William Hazlitt once said, "prosperity is a great teacher; adversity a greater."

And after a prosperous start to the season, the pairing of Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci experienced the latter during Friday's game in Buffalo, a 3-2 loss to the Sabres. But as good leaders do, they own up to their mistakes, learn from them and want to continue to move forward.

"Mistakes are going to happen. I made one last night that cost us," Keith said bluntly, referring to a turnover in transition that led to a goal against. "Obviously a bit of a letdown last night. There are going to be a lot of ups and downs and some adversity over the course of the year that we're going to have to deal with. I think it should make us stronger. It's just a matter of riding through that and being positive. Bouncing back. There are no easy wins in this league."

Video: RAW | Duncan Keith 11.13.21

To further quote Keith, "it's a long season." And for the Oilers, it's been a bit of a long week. 

They're 1-2-0 so far on their five-game road trip after a 9-1-0 start to the season. The team learned they would be without Devin Shore for four to six weeks before Zack Kassian went down with a lower-body ailment on Tuesday. Mike Smith suffered a setback in practice and had to travel back to Edmonton for further evaluation.

And after a come-from-behind win over the Bruins, Ceci admits his and his teammates' play was less than ideal in Buffalo. The defenceman isn't too focused on the micro of Friday's game, though. Instead, he's emphasizing the big picture.

"You can't dwell too much on what happens every single shift," Ceci said on Saturday. "You've just got to look at it as a whole. Over time, you realize that. It helps the team, helps your own game just trying to get past little things that happen throughout the game.

"You've got to look at the season as a whole."

Video: RAW | Cody Ceci 11.13.21

As a whole, the Oilers have checked off a lot of boxes in the opening 13 games.

They were tied for the most wins in the NHL entering Saturday's action and own the league's best power play, which is scoring at an historic rate. Edmonton is the league's most lethal team with a 4.08 goals-for-per-game average, has a top-three penalty kill and is tied for second in the overall standings.

Last Friday's victory over the New York Rangers gave the Oilers their most wins through 10 games in franchise history at 9-1-0. As captain Connor McDavid took to the podium with Darnell Nurse post-game, he quickly glanced to his right to the windows of the Oilers Hall of Fame Room at Rogers Place. In front of the Wayne Gretzky statue, a large group of Oilers fans erupted in a loud cheer.

"We want the Cup" chants permeated the room. But in order to get to the highest, most prestigious levels of hockey, you need players who exude those championships habits on a nightly basis.

Duncan Keith does that. 

"When the other players see how he prepares mentally, physically for a game, players take notice of that when he has the resume he has," Tippett said on Saturday. "Off the ice, he seems like a pretty quiet, laid-back guy. But in the game, he's intense. He wants things to go well. When they don't go well, he's passionate about it. That's a good thing for our team." 

Video: RAW | Dave Tippett 11.13.21

Keith's body of work speaks for itself. He is a three-time Stanley Cup champion and added 'Conn Smythe Trophy winner' to this resume in 2015 next to a pair of Norris Trophy wins. He just recently played in his 1,200th NHL game.

For a player who has seemingly done it all during his NHL career, he was a rookie in one department this past off-season: being traded.

Keith recalls being in his off-season home in Penticton, British Columbia on July 12. His phone rang on the counter. He had been officially traded to Edmonton after days of rumours.

"It was exciting," Keith recalled. "A lot of different emotions but certainly excitement was right there and right at the top. The challenge and opportunity that we have here as a team is as good as it's going to get."

On the other side of the country, in his cabin in Northern Quebec, Ceci had just completed his first and only season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. When Keith was dealt to Edmonton, Ceci was set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 28.

During that span, the Seattle Kraken selected defenceman Adam Larsson in the NHL Expansion Draft and suddenly there was a void on Edmonton's back end right side.

"It all happened pretty quickly," the 27-year-old recalled. "We were back and forth with Pittsburgh a little bit. After Larsson had decided to go to Seattle, it opened up a spot. Looking at the team, looking at where these guys are in their careers, I really liked the opportunity and decided to come here."

Video: EDM@BOS: Ceci scores in 3rd period

Adding over 1,700 games of NHL experience instills a sense of confidence and comfort for any head coach. The two rearguards are natural leaders who provide a consistent effort night after night.

Naturally, however, there could be hiccups and hurdles as new players adjust to their new team. But looking at the bigger picture, Tippett is aware of the impact Keith and Ceci have had and will continue to have.

"They're both trying to figure out the structure and how we want to play," he said. "When veteran players come in, you almost think a veteran player is going to be a leader the day he steps through the door. But great leaders figure out what they're dealing with before they step into that leadership."

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