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McDavid, McLellan lead Oilers' offseason overhaul

by Derek Van Diest / Edmonton Oilers begins its preview of the 2015-16 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout August.

EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Oilers haven't been among the top NHL teams in recent years, but they are one of the most fortunate.

In April, the Oilers won the NHL Draft Lottery for the fourth time in six years. The prize was Erie Otters center Connor McDavid, who is considered the best player to enter the League since Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby a decade ago.

McDavid fell into the Oilers' lap, and consequently expedited changes to the franchise, which has failed to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past nine seasons.

Edmonton, with an 11.5 percent chance, won the lottery after finishing 28th in the NHL standings. Shortly after NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly revealed the result, major changes took place in the Oilers organization.

Two days later, Bob Nicholson was appointed chief executive officer and vice chair of the Oilers Entertainment Group. The former president of Hockey Canada was hired by Edmonton a year earlier to assess all aspects of the operation.

"When this was drawn, I think every fan in this city, every Oilers fan in the county jumped through the roof, they were so excited," Nicholson said, holding the golden lottery card at the announcement of his new role. "I can tell you I was sitting at home by myself and all I did was start to smile."

Four days after being named CEO, Nicholson hired Peter Chiarelli as president of hockey operations and general manager, replacing Craig MacTavish. Chiarelli was fired by the Boston Bruins nine days earlier after eight years as their GM, winning the Stanley Cup in 2011. Chiarelli worked with Nicholson as a member of Canada's management team at the 2013 IIHF World Championship and 2014 Sochi Olympics.

"I really got to know Peter well when we went to Sochi for the Olympic Games and I really like the way he communicates," Nicholson said. "He's a clear communicator, he's worked in Ottawa and worked in Boston and put those teams together. He sees the game changing and I'm sure he's going to be flexible to make sure he makes the right changes to put this team going in the right direction."

In mid-May, Chiarelli hired Todd McLellan as coach. McLellan spent the previous seven seasons coaching the San Jose Sharks and missed the playoffs for the first time last season.

McLellan signed a five-year contract, becoming Edmonton's seventh coach in the past eight seasons. Todd Nelson, who took over from Dallas Eakins 32 games into last season, was considered a candidate to take over permanently, but after the Oilers won the draft lottery and Chiarelli took over, the vacant position became attractive throughout the League.

"The lottery was something everybody was watching," McLellan said. "If you were a coach out of work and was considering a position to attain, everybody had an eyeball on where Connor was going to end up. But he wasn't the only factor that came into play; there were so many other factors that one has to consider. And I only got to make 50 percent of the decision, the other part was made by the Oilers organization."

McLellan brought assistants Jay Woodcroft and Jim Johnson from San Jose; he also hired Ian Herbers away from the University of Alberta. McLellan worked with Herbers in the International Hockey League.

With the coaching staff in place, Chiarelli turned his attention to the 2015 NHL Draft, but not before making major changes to the scouting department.

After the Oilers went through the formality of drafting McDavid at No. 1, Chiarelli began augmenting the roster. He traded for goaltender Cam Talbot from the New York Rangers and defenseman Griffin Reinhart from the New York Islanders. The Oilers traded veteran center Boyd Gordon to the Arizona Coyotes for Lauri Korpikoski, then signed free agent defenseman Andrej Sekera and center Mark Letestu.

The Oilers are hopeful the busy offseason translates into on-ice success in the final season at Rexall Place. They move into a new downtown arena, Rogers Place, for the 2016-17 season.

"I find there is a real sense of excitement in town," Chiarelli said. "And I'm sure that excitement will grow as the season approaches."

Author: Derek Van Diest | Correspondent

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