TORONTO — Connor McDavid is not taking anything for granted after the Edmonton Oilers ended a decade-long Stanley Cup Playoff drought and went on a surprising run to the 2017 Western Conference Second Round, when they lost in seven games to the Anaheim Ducks.
“It doesn’t really change much. Last year, we were able to find a little success, but we shouldn’t change anything,” the 20-year-old center said at BioSteel Camp on Tuesday. “Every year is a new year, and when you look at the turnover year to year, teams that made the playoffs last year aren’t a guarantee to make the playoffs this year.”
Seven of the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason in 2015-16 did not make the playoffs last season.
McDavid, who won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP after leading the League in scoring (100 points), said he didn’t realize how much playoff experience mattered before playing in the 2017 postseason, but he now knows how much the game changes after the regular season.
“After going through the playoffs, you definitely get a sense for how important it is to go through it at least once before you win,” McDavid said. “Most teams that have won have lost the previous year or a few years before, so you have to get that experience. This might be a different answer than what we were saying going into the playoffs, but after going through it once, you definitely need that experience to understand how big the games are and how intense they get.”
Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse, who had five goals, six assists and an even rating in 44 games last season, said getting a taste of what it is like to get deep into the playoffs has fueled him throughout the offseason as he prepares for 2017-18.
“The experience was huge for us, but at the same time, it’s a big motivating factor now,” Nurse said. “We’ve been there; I think our expectations are higher now. We just have to continue to work and grow and become a team that competes for a Cup every year.”
The Oilers took a big step in that direction this offseason, securing their future as Cup contenders by signing McDavid and forward Leon Draisaitl to a long-term extension.
McDavid, who also won the Ted Lindsay Award as most outstanding player in the League as voted by NHL players, signed an eight-year, $100 million contract July 5. Draisaitl, who turns 22 on Oct. 27, signed an eight-year, $68 million contract on Aug. 16. He was eighth in the League in scoring with 77 points (29 goals, 48 assists) in 82 games.
“It’s exciting to get to play with Leon for the next eight years. He’s a fun guy to play with,” said McDavid, who was named Oilers captain Oct. 5, making him the youngest in NHL history (19 years, 266 days). “To have the two of us locked up like that for a long time and have the pieces that we do as well in Edmonton, it is exciting.”
Nurse, who is entering the final season of his three-year, entry-level contract, was happy to see the top young forwards commit to the Oilers. He said their success serves as motivation for Edmonton’s other young players.
“One of the main things management wanted to do was get that core locked up for a long time,” Nurse said. “For us as a team, it’s definitely exciting knowing two of the top players in the League are going to be there for a long time. It motivates everyone to continue to work and try to be a part of it for a long time too.”
After the Oilers took a big step forward last season, the mindset will be very different in Edmonton. It’s no longer a question of whether the Oilers will be good; it’s a queston of how good they can be.
“We’ve grown a lot (in the past year),” Nurse said. “Slowly but surely the young guy reputation is going to go away. As we get more and more experience in the League, we have to grow with each and every step and season. Everyone is excited about the next challenge coming up here and getting back to work in September.”