McDavid: Oilers better for playoff experience

TORONTO — The Edmonton Oilers’ first playoff berth in more than a decade ended in heartbreak, but Connor McDavid thinks the club will be better for it.

“I think 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, Edmonton’s award-hogging 20-year-old captain, said Tuesday from the annual BioSteel camp in Toronto.

“You look at most teams that have won, they’ve lost the previous year or a few years before. So you have to get that experience.”

Led by McDavid, the Oilers not only qualified for the post-season for the first time since 2006, but also nearly snatched the Pacific division from Anaheim with the finest campaign Edmonton has seen from their NHL team (103 points) in the salary cap era. What followed was a six-game triumph over the then-reigning Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks and near-upending of the Ducks in the second round.

Nick Ritchie doused Edmonton’s chances with the go-ahead goal early in the third period of Game 7.

That hearty push and the presence of McDavid, above all, has the Oilers looking like real threats to capture the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in almost three decades.

“It’s exciting, but it really doesn’t mean anything,” said McDavid of rising expectations. ”It’s up to us to figure out how good we’re going to be and if we’re willing to put in all the work.”

McDavid was the only player in the league to hit 100 points last season, later winning the Hart trophy for MVP and Ted Lindsay Award as the players’ choice for top player.

The Newmarket, Ont., native signed an eight-year, US$100 million extension with the Oilers on July 3 — which won’t kick in until the 2018-19 campaign.

Edmonton’s off-season has also included a rich, new second contract to McDavid running mate and fellow franchise cornerstone, Leon Draisaitl (eight years, $68 million), and the acquisition of Ryan Strome from the New York Islanders.

McDavid said he’s been in touch with Draisaitl throughout the summer and sent him a note of congratulations after the new deal was announced earlier this month.

Readying for the World Cup of Hockey at this point last year, McDavid has spent his first normal NHL summer trying to bolster all areas of his game, including the faceoff circle. The youngest captain in NHL history ranked 85th (43.2 per cent) of 88 qualifying centres on the draw last year and to address that, he’s looked to get stronger.

McDavid will soon head to New York for the NHL’s player media tour and then begin guiding the Oilers once more — hopefully better for experience as they reach toward greater heights.

“That might be a different answer than what we were saying going into the playoffs,” McDavid said. “But after going through it once I think you definitely need that experience just to understand how big the games are and how intense they are.”

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