‘Sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment’

Chiarelli bullish on Oil­ers af­ter leap up stand­ings in 2016-17

Cape Breton Post - - Sports - BY DEAN BEN­NETT

Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers gen­eral man­ager Peter Chiarelli says his team ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions this year, and the plan is to not deliver an­other elec­tro-shock to the ros­ter like last year’s Tay­lor Hall trade.

“I don’t want to delve too much into mov­ing the team’s ros­ter around just be­cause we’ve had some suc­cess and you’d like to see it evolve a lit­tle bit,” Chiarelli told re­porters Tues­day at a sea­son wrap-up news con­fer­ence.

“We made a lot of strides this year.

“We had sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in pretty much ev­ery­thing.”

Chiarelli took a lot of criticism from fans when he traded Hall, the team’s top of­fen­sive threat next to Con­nor McDavid, to New Jersey for de­fence­man Adam Lars­son.

Lars­son, though, helped sta­bi­lize a peren­ni­ally poor Oiler blue line corps, giv­ing skilled for­wards like McDavid more time and space.

Chiarelli said his goal head­ing into last sea­son was for the Oil­ers, who had missed the play­offs for 10 years, to play mean­ing­ful games in March and have a shot at the NHL play­offs.

In­stead the Oil­ers racked up 103 points, just missed the Pa­cific Di­vi­sion ti­tle, beat the San Jose Sharks in the first play­off round and took the Ana­heim Ducks to seven games be­fore bow­ing out.

McDavid led the league in scor­ing with 30 goals and 100 points and Leon Drai­saitl was eighth (77 points). Goalie Cam Tal­bot put him­self in the league’s elite, win­ning 42 games in the reg­u­lar sea­son and steal­ing a cou­ple of games for the Oil­ers in the play­offs.

But Chiarelli said “there’s still a fair bit of work to be done.”

The Oil­ers fin­ished last in the reg­u­lar sea­son on win­ning face­offs, at 47 per cent.

“That (face­off per­cent­age) will im­prove just with the guys get­ting stronger. That will im­prove with the guys work­ing on it be­cause we were pretty spe­cific about it in the (player) exit meet­ings,” he said.

There’s the is­sue of $6-mil­lion for­ward Jor­dan Eberle.

Eberle scored 20 goals in the reg­u­lar sea­son but dis­ap­peared in the play­offs. He had zero goals and was panned by fans and crit­ics for too of­ten dump­ing the puck, duck­ing checks and gen­er­ally avoid­ing the el­e­vated level of com­mit­ment needed in the post-sea­son.

Chiarelli echoed com­ments made last week by Oil­ers coach Todd McLel­lan, urg­ing crit­ics to not judge Eberle, a proven goal-scorer, by the small sam­ple size of 13 play­off games.

“He’s a very skilled player,” said Chiarelli.

“We talked (with him) about his ap­proach men­tally as to scor­ing, and what’s his rou­tine, and maybe there are some things we can look at.”

The Oil­ers de­fence took a ma­jor leap for­ward with Lars­son and Os­car Klef­bom lead­ing the way, backed by veter­ans Kris Rus­sell and An­drej Sek­era, and young­sters Dar­nell Nurse and Matt Ben­ning.

“I’m pretty happy with the D,” said Chiarelli.

“Do we have a cham­pi­onship D-corps? I’m not sure yet. There’s still an el­e­ment of growth (that needs to hap­pen).”

CP PHOTO

Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers gen­eral man­ager Peter Chiarelli speaks to the me­dia dur­ing the Oil­ers’ end-of-the-year press con­fer­ence in Ed­mon­ton, Alta. in this April 2016 file photo.

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