Oilers General Manager & President of Hockey Operations Ken Holland and Head Coach Kris Knoblauch spoke to the media on Wednesday ahead of their team's start to the Western Conference Final against the Dallas Stars on Thursday at American Airlines Center.

Holland discussed his relationship with Stars' GM Jim Nill and the growth of his team's core leadership group, while Knoblauch touched on a variety of topics including the evolutions of both defenceman Evan Bouchard and forward Dylan Holloway.

View the full press conference and read the entire transcript from Wednesday's availability below:

Kris & Ken address the media ahead of the Conference Final

Holland on serving as a mentor to Stars General Manager Jim Nill:

“Well, go back to 1975 and we played junior hockey together for the Medicine Hat Tigers. I actually talked yesterday to Bob Ridley, who was our bus driver. I think he was with the Tigers for 50 years, and I said, ‘Did you think in 1975 you'd be driving around two general managers meeting in the Final Four about 50 years later?’ But when I played in Medicine Hat, I was an overage and Jim was a 17-year-old. We played the one year, and then in 1992, when I became the general manager in Detroit, I needed someone to replace me and I brought him in. I became manager and he became assistant manager. Certainly, a lot of the success that we had in Detroit, in my mind, I attribute to Jim Nill. He ran the draft and he and his scouting staff were responsible for the Zetterbergs and Datsyuks. And obviously, we go way back and we're good friends. He's done an amazing job here with Dallas.

"It was tough to see him leave in 2013 or 2014, so he's been here about ten years and he's built up a tremendous hockey team. They have great vets and great young kids. They've done a great job in the draft, and they have good goaltending. So we know we're in for a tremendous series. I talked to Jim yesterday. We probably won't talk the rest of the series. My brother scouts for Dallas as well. He's an amateur scout for the Dallas Stars and lives in Vernon, BC, so I’m looking forward to the next two weeks. It should be a great series and obviously, I'm very grateful and thankful for everything that Jim Nill did for me and for us when we were together in Detroit.”

Holland on the gratification of seeing Jim Nill and [Dallas Head of Amateur Scouting] Joe McDonnell succeed after working with both in Detroit:

“When we won Game 7 the other night in Vancouver, the next morning I was woken up to a text from Ryan Martin, who's the Assistant General Manager for the New York Rangers just congratulating us both on getting to the Western Conference Final. My assistant is now obviously the Assistant GM with the New York Rangers, so it's kind of strange I guess to see three of us in the final four. Joe McDonnell, Håkan Andersson and Mark Leach were key people with Jim Nill, and when I became manager in 1997, from ‘97 to about ’02 or ’03, certainly they found late-rounders in Zetterberg, Datsyuk, Franzen, Filppula, Hudler, Kronwall and Ericsson. They really found a lot of the players that led to our success from 2005 to 2015. So like you said, Joe McDonnell, Jim Nill, and Mark Leach were scouts on our staff in Detroit. They want to win and we want to win. It's going to be a great week. But certainly, Jim and Mark Leach and Joe McDonnell, my brother Dennis, have done an amazing job at the draft table in building the team that they've got.

The Panel previews the Western Conference Final against Dallas

Knoblauch on Holloway’s outlook at the Trade Deadline and his rise to becoming an important playoff contributor:

“He definitely moved up with the way he played. I can't say that we envisioned him being on our second line playing key minutes like he is. We obviously thought very highly of him, knew that he was only going to get better from what we saw early at the trade deadline, and where he was going to fit in the lineup – whether that was fourth-line kind of energy, physicality and bringing that kind of element to our team – we pushed him up. We had some injuries. He played some key minutes on our third line, and then were like, ‘Oh, we got something here. He's playing really well. He's got a lot of confidence’. He's just continued to earn my trust, and he's moved up to that second line and I think he's bringing a lot.”

Holland: “I think your first game he got hurt, right?”

Knoblauch: “He did, yeah. It was against New York and he played four minutes. I didn't see him very much.”

Holland: “He was out for a month or six weeks, and when he came back, Kris and I talked and thought he needed some time in the American Hockey League. I really think the last stint there, I think he played 18 games and had ten goals, moved to left wing and he got his confidence, so when he came back, he really took full advantage of the opportunity.”

Knoblauch: “I think I'll just follow with one more thing we talked about. He came back from the injury, played a few games in mid-January, and there was nothing wrong with this game. It was good, but we felt there was more. We sent him to Bakersfield just to work on some things. It was a temporary assignment with all intentions of bringing him back after a week or two weeks, whatever the deadline was. And when you send a player down there, sometimes, they don't make the most out of it. Dylan was open-minded. We wanted him to work on some things, spent some time playing centre, and going down there I think they did a really good job with him. He worked really hard, he had a good open mind, got some confidence, scored some goals and was used on the penalty kill and power play regularly and at five-on-five. That time down there was beneficial for him and definitely beneficial for our team. And now it's paying off.”

Connor & Zach speak ahead of the Western Conference Final

Holland on the leadership group of the Oilers learning from past failures in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to arrive at this moment ready to win:

“Tremendous growth, I would say that when I got here in 2019, and some of you were in the room, I think I talked about the importance of being in lots of big games. The first year, we wanted to be in some big games in March and we weren't sure if we could make the playoffs, but that's where you begin to believe as a player. The more you get in the playoffs, the more experience you get. It makes a difference. I think going into Game 6 at home against Vancouver the other day, we'd been in that situation two years ago going into LA in Game 6 down three games to two, and we had to win a big road game. This was flipped – we had to win a big home game, and then you go into Game 7 and you'd been in it before two years earlier.

"So number one, I would say they've been in lots of big games. We've played lots of playoff games. We expect lots of 22 and 23-year-olds in the National Hockey League in terms of what they can do on the ice and leadership. But ultimately, you need to have some years. You need [players] 25, 26, 27 years of age. So I think that they've grown as players and tremendously as leaders, and certainly Connor, Leon, Nuge and Darnell. We've tried to add to that. It's why we brought in Corey Perry, Mattias Ekholm and some others in Zach Hyman; some veteran guys that have been around, and you try to grow that leadership group. But certainly, Connor and Leon drive our team on and off the ice.”

Knoblauch on the evolution of Evan Bouchard and a lot of the credit belonging to Paul Coffey:

“I think you have to credit Paul for what he's brought to Evans’s game. I think since Paul's been here, he’s just encouraged the defencemen to make plays, not worry about mistakes, limiting those, but giving them a lot of confidence to make those plays and giving them insight into what plays are to be made and where they can pull it back a little bit. I think with Paul's experience in the National Hockey League and especially with the Edmonton Oilers, how can you not listen? How can you not be wide-eyed and listen to every word he says? And I think that relationship's been really good not only for Evan, but all the defencemen. Evan was a great defenceman before, and I think just with the tutelage from Paul, he’s increased his playing ability and really allowed himself to take that next step.”

Knoblauch on Bouchard building his all-around game to complement his offence:

“It's not fair just to mention the shot. Obviously, the shot is noteworthy – I don't know the stat about 90-mile-an-hour slap shots in the NHL, but he's got twice as many as the next guy. So not only does he have the velocity, but he's got the accuracy.

"The rest of his game, I was talking about this just a few days ago. Somebody was asking me about Bouchard and I knew him quite well from my time in the Ontario Hockey League. The Erie Otters and London Knights had quite a rivalry, and Evan was a young defenceman coming into the league. Watching him, I was thinking, ‘Alright, here's this young 16-year-old that's getting a lot of ice time. Probably more than I think he deserves. Let's take advantage of him. He's going to be on the ice that much. He looks tall, lanky, a little sleepy, maybe out of position a bit, so let's take advantage of it’. But I was totally wrong in my assessment of Evan at a young age just because he was always making the right plays. He was in position and he was a young 16-year-old. He was growing into his body, but he was an outstanding player even at that age.

"What I saw from him, that 16-year-old playing at the Ontario Hockey League at that level, I'm kind of seeing here. He's always in the right position. He rarely makes a mistake. Forwards love a defenceman who puts a pass on their stick. I don't know many guys who are better than him at doing that. And then defensively, I don't think he gets enough credit for how well he defends just because it just seems like he's always a step ahead of the play.”

Stuart & Evan speak after landing in Dallas on Wednesday afternoon

Holland on this year being Edmonton’s best chance to win over his five years as General Manager & President of Hockey Operations:

“Looking back the first year, the season got interrupted by COVID and we had to play that July or August best-of-five against Chicago, which wasn't great. I thought the Winnipeg series the next year, we lost in four, but three games went to overtime. They were low scores. I think one game was 0-0. One game was 1-1. We were playing more playoff hockey, and then the third year we went to the Final Four similar to today, but we met Colorado. Certainly we feel good about our team and feel good about all the experiences that our team has had here over the last three years playing in playoff series against Calgary, against Vancouver, three against LA, Colorado, and last year against Vegas. Players are a bit older. They're in their prime. We've got some veterans around them. So certainly, we feel good about our team. We're excited for this challenge.”

Holland on Knoblauch’s decision-making in the Second Round & what he’s learned about his head coach since hiring him in mid-November:

“First off, right off the bat, we were 2-9-1 and he came in and saved the season. The team rallied around him and we were 2-9-1 in November and we got to .500 by Christmas. We dug ourselves out of a big hole in a short time. Kris and Paul Coffey were big reasons and the team really responded. I had actually interviewed Kris for the Grand Rapids job maybe five or six years ago and it was down to the final three or final four. I think we spent a couple of hours together at an airport hangar in Detroit, wasn’t it?”

Knoblauch: “Yeah, I think 2017-2018.”

Holland: “So I kind of followed his career from that point in time. When things were struggling early, I talked to [Oilers CEO, Hockey Operations & Alternate Governor] Jeff Jackson. Jeff really knew him well. A lot of players that Jeff represented played for Kris in Erie and we made the change, and it’s very impressive for a rookie coach. It's a hard league. I thought even during the regular season, he had a great feel for in-game or who should play, who shouldn't play. And like you said, you're in a playoff series against Vancouver and he makes the really tough decision to make a goalie move. It turned out that Picks played great for us and played the two games, and then, I thought that it gave a chance for a reset for Stu. Certainly, the timeout [in Game 7]. It’s tough taking Corey Perry out of the lineup, a guy who's going to be a Hall of Famer and putting in Sam Carrick. Sam has played great for us in the last two games, so Kris has done a lot of winning.

"I knew a lot about Kris because his boss in Hartford was Ryan Martin, who was my Assistant GM for seven or eight years in Detroit. So certainly, I had a good feel. Ryan told me he's got a great feel and great instincts. It’s easy to have those instincts at the American League level when there's not a lot of media. Certainly, the little decisions are more under the spotlight and you're scrutinized at this level, and he's very impressive in the decisions that he's made and certainly a big factor why we're sitting here today.”

Leon & Mattias speak in Dallas ahead of Thursday's Game 1

Knoblauch on the opportunity for Ryan McLeod to play an important role in Round 3 against Dallas:

“Since I've been here, I've appreciated Ryan a lot. He brings a lot to our team, and there's been a lot of talk about the mistake that he made in Vancouver. But all our players will make a mistake eventually at some point in a game or certainly a series. If we're going to have success moving forward, Ryan's got to be a big part of that.

"Ryan's been a little snake-bitten offensively through the playoffs, but his contributions on the defensive side have been remarkable playing against other teams’ top lines, and you look at how well our penalty kill has been performing through the playoffs. He's been a big part of that. When a guy's not going or hasn't scored for a while, it gets to you. But we saw him go through this process earlier in the season shortly after I got here. He hadn't scored yet and ended up getting a goal in Winnipeg, and just getting that puck in that net gives a guy so much more confidence. If Ryan’s able to get a break and get one in, then we're going to see him elevate and get so much more confidence. We would like him to contribute a little more offensively, but other than that, the rest of his game's been good for us. He's playing a lot of minutes against other teams’ top lines, and a lot of that is because he’s a very smart player, but another attribute that he has is his skating ability. He covers a lot of ice, so we'll expect big things out of Ryan because he's a big part of our team.”

Knoblauch on the moment of getting to the Western Conference Final as a rookie head coach:

“I'm trying to enjoy it as much as possible. It's been quite a ride just to be able to get this position with the Edmonton Oilers, an elite organization and a team that has some superstars and a lot of good players. Being able to work with the coaching staff – the management, everybody that's along for this ride – I'm just trying to enjoy as much as possible and you never know when you're going to have an opportunity like this again. I think we've got an excellent opportunity if we're playing well and things go our way. Obviously in the playoffs, you never know what's going to happen. I think through our experience, not only in my time here, but the team and previous playoff experiences, the team is kind of ready for everything. Just trying to make the most of it.”