Oil­ers wing­ing it for now

The London Free Press - - SPORTS - THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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.

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