The Oilers are prepared, mentally and physically, for the Stanley Cup Qualifiers and have previous experience to draw from
EDMONTON, AB - As the saying goes, there's a first for everything.
But thankfully for some members of the Edmonton Oilers, the upcoming 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers won't be their first rodeo.
Many Oilers remember the run in 2016-17 when the club was eliminated in Game 7 of Round 2 versus the Anaheim Ducks. That roller-coaster ride provided six core Oilers with an introduction to playoff hockey.
Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oscar Klefbom, Matt Benning and Darnell Nurse are sure to draw from that previous experience when lining up for the Play-In Round against the Chicago Blackhawks.
"It's, obviously, a little bit of a different setup," Draisaitl, who produced six goals and 16 points over 13 career post-season contests, said. "That run in 2017, you learn a lot and take a lot of things out of it that work and that don't work. But at the end of the day, you still have to play your game."
To summarize, Draisaitl said: "Take what worked for you, take that out of it and try to implement that to this playoff."
Post-season puck is a different game altogether and this year's edition will be a whole new experience for everyone involved due to the National Hockey League's Return To Play Plan operation.
It helps, though, that there are veterans in Edmonton's dressing room able to quell any shock that jolts the untried.
James Neal is well-acquainted with summer hockey, having played 104 playoff games throughout his 12-year career. He reached the post-season summit in back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances with the Nashville Predators and Vegas Golden Knights in 2017 and 2018.
The Oilers also have the well-spoken Alex Chiasson in their corner. The Quebec product laced up in 16 contests with the Washington Capitals during their Cup victory in '17-18, beating out Neal's Golden Knights to earn his name on Lord Stanley.
In goal, Mike Smith is set to carry a .938 save percentage over 24 playoff games into the 2020 Cup circuit. His partner, Mikko Koskinen, isn't acquainted with NHL playoff hockey but has earned hardware before, winning the KHL's Gagarin Cup on two occasions.
There's also Alberta's own Kris Russell. The Caroline cowboy possesses a .40 points-per-game average in the post-season, scoring three goals and 20 points in 49 playoff games with five different clubs.
In short, there are resources available for any inexperienced Oilers.
"We're a close-knit group," Russell said.
"We got a lot of veteran guys that guys can look up to and ask questions. Guys are very comfortable if they have some questions or if they need some help with situations come playoff time."
Experience and a lack thereof is one thing, but there is a mental aspect to the post-season that journeymen emphasize. Attention to detail and unwavering focus is paramount for clubs looking to make a splash in the summer.
Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett achieved the playoffs eight times while serving as head coach for the Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes, owning a 33-41 record. Tippett kept tabs on the attitude of his club during the NHL's four-month pause and believes the group is taking the right mentality into Saturday's series-opener.
"You're always concerned about the mindset of your team," Tippett, who made it to the Western Conference Finals twice in his career, said.
"It became clear to me that our players were enthused to come back. As the players got here and started working out, you realized that wasn't going to be an issue with our group. They were enthused to be here and anxious to get going."
The going will certainly get tough against the Blackhawks. With proven stars such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad, Duncan Keith and netminder Corey Crawford, the Oilers will have their hands full playing against a team gushing with Stanley Cup calibre. The Hawks lifted the trophy over their heads in 2010, 2013 and 2015.
"They have high-end skill and veterans that have won before," Adam Larsson, who has 18 playoff games to his name, said. "It's a tough challenge for us but I feel like our team has prepared in a really good way.