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FEATURE: Oilers eyeing training camp

As the calendar flips to August, some Oilers are beginning to eye the beginning of training camp

by Paul Gazzola /

They're on the golf course gripping clubs, but not long from now they'll be at the arena clutching sticks.

Oilers Cam Talbot, Mark Letestu and Matt Benning found themselves squaring up at the tee box Tuesday at the Syncrude Oil Country Championship presented by AECON but couldn't help admit they are eager to substitute the links for the rinks.

Video: 1-ON-1 | Mark Letestu

The 'itch' is real and it's coming back - for good reason. 

"I think today you kind of start to get the itch," said Talbot, who made Edmonton home this off-season. "Once it rolls over into August, you start to think camp is a month or month and a half away. You start to look forward to it."

The 2016-17 campaign saw the Oilers transform into a contender. As a team, the accolades were abundant: the club improved by 33 points from the 2015-16 season, they challenged for first place in the Pacific Division, triumphed over franchises they've been unsuccessful against in years previous and were two goals away from possibly making the Western Final.

Individually, there's more. 

Connor McDavid was the National Hockey League's Most Valuable Player with 30 goals and 70 assists for 100 points - the first Oiler to crack triple digits since Doug Weight in 1995-96. He rightfully earned the Art Ross Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award. 

Talbot was a wall, tying Braden Holtby of the Washington Capitals for the most wins with 42. The netminder surpassed Grant Fuhr to become the franchise leader in single-season victories. Talbot also registered seven shutouts, tying Peter Budaj and Sergei Bobrovsky for third in that department.

Letestu had a career-year, scoring a career-high 16 goals and 35 points, while also becoming a power-play specialist with 14 man-advantage points and providing Edmonton with the game-winning goal on six separate occasions.

Video: OILERS TODAY | Eager for the Ice

Rookie Matt Benning proved he could compete in the League after making the jump from Northeastern University. The 23-year-old was a force on the blueline, compiling 15 points and providing a physical edge to opposing forwards who dared cross it with their head down. 

In all, there are many reasons for the team to feel the 'itch' to lace up the skates.

"The shortness of (the off-season) and with training camp on the horizon, the excitement is coming back," said Letestu. "I'm excited." 

"I hope the city is and I hope the guys are." 

It won't be long until players return to Edmonton. Some will do so weeks before training camp begins.

"Guys start coming back into town in a few weeks and we get to spend some time with them before the season starts," said Talbot. 

Given the growth of last season, there are new expectations and challenges in 2017-18.

"There's no reason to tip-toe around it; the bar has gone up," said Letestu. "We expect to go further in the playoffs. We expect to have a better regular season. I don't think anybody's going to be caught off-guard by those expectations.

"That was the first step for this group and I'm sure the message at training camp will be just that. We'll be ready."

Until then, Talbot, Letestu and Benning will soak up what remains of the off-season.

"Right around this time is when you start to get excited about it, but today, I got some other things to focus on and that's trying not to hurt anyone on the fairway," Talbot joked.

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