After all the miserable, bordering on embarrassing, regular seasons they went through over a 10-year stretch, the Edmonton Oilers served notice this season they have the potential to be a force in the Western Conference.
With Connor McDavid leading the way, the Oilers went from a team that could perhaps make the jump into the playoffs this season to a team one win away from the Western Conference Final.
This 2016-17 season came to an end for the Oilers with a 2-1 loss in Game 7 versus the Anaheim Ducks, concluding a series that included a number of massive lead changes and wild swings in momentum.
“We weren’t afraid of the (playoff) stage. We were willing to come out on it and perform. That’s a good sign for us,” said coach Todd McLellan. “The overall feeling right now is disappointment … but we basically got a college degree in a month.”
Of course, now the expectations will rise for next season. After winning the draft lottery again and having the magnificent fortune of selecting McDavid first overall, the Oilers emerged as the second best team in the Pacific Division during the regular season with 103 points, making the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
McDavid, at just 20 years of age, is a finalist for the Hart Trophy. Leon Draisaitl, taken third overall in 2014, put together a 77-point season in just his second full campaign in the NHL and was ridiculously productive in this series versus Anaheim with the exception of Game 7.
Yes, it helps he played alongside McDavid. This year, they played together for 670 minutes at five-on-five. But Draisaitl had 51 points a year ago, when he didn’t even play five minutes of even strength with McDavid, and is another top young talent in Edmonton. Cam Talbot provided a substantial upgrade in goaltending, both in the regular season and playoffs.
The list of improved performances this season doesn’t end there.
“You could see how much we grew as a group, but individually we’ve grown just as much,” said Talbot.
It’s been a long time since anyone could say that about the Edmonton Oilers.