Oilers winging it for now
EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers opened training camp Thursday with franchise forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl locked up to long-term contracts, but with questions on who will play alongside them.
“The right (wing), in my opinion, is the wild card position on our team right now,” head coach Todd McLellan said as players reported for medical tests at Rogers Place.
McDavid is pencilled in with his usual left-wing partner Patrick Maroon on the top line. Draisaitl will remain with Milan Lucic on his left side on the second line. But after that, it’s not so clear. Newcomer Ryan Strome, acquired in the offseason for Jordan Eberle, is tabbed to play on McDavid’s right side when the players hit the ice Friday.
Winger Anton Slepyshev won’t skate immediately as he continues rehabilitation for an ankle injury.
Sophomore Drake Caggiula will move up as the second-line right-winger in training camp. But McLellan said if things don’t pan out, he could try Draisaitl on McDavid’s wing, as was done with success last season. Lucic could even move back alongside McDavid, as he did at the start of last year.
Third-line centre Ryan NugentHopkins could move to the wing, although McLellan said that’s doubtful. Strome has experience at centre in junior.
“There are moving parts,” McLellan said. “Those pieces are moving all the time, in my opinion, and they still need to be sorted out.”
On balance, it’s a pleasant dilemma for McLellan.
The Oilers are coming off a breakout year, finishing tied for eighth overall in the NHL after missing the playoffs for 10 consecutive seasons. Edmonton pushed the Anaheim Ducks to seven games before bowing out in the second round of the playoffs.
McDavid won the Hart Trophy and the NHL scoring title with 100 points (30 goals, 70 assists) while Draisaitl had 29 goals and 77 points. Both were signed to bigticket, eight-year contract extensions in the offseason.
The Oilers have questions to answer on the back end as well given that top-four defenceman Andrej Sekera is still months away from returning after suffering a serious knee injury in the playoffs.
McDavid acknowledged the spotlight will be brighter this year.
“Outside expectations don’t mean much. In the (dressing) room we expect ourselves to have a good team and do what we did last year,” he said.