Connor McDavid speaks to the press during Edmonton Oilers medicals at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Codie McLachlan

Oilers begin camp with questions on who will play with McDavid, Draisaitl

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 penciled 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 off-season 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. Milan Lucic could even move back alongside McDavid, as he did at the start of last year.

Third-line centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins could move to the wing, although McLellan said that’s doubtful. Strome has experience at centre in junior.

“There are moving parts,” said McLellan.

“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 big-ticket, eight-year contract extensions in the off-season.

General manager Peter Chiarelli also dispatched the slick-shooting Eberle to the New York Islanders for Strome.

Eberle was the Oilers’ third-leading scorer in the regular season (51 points) but disappeared in the playoffs (zero goals in 13 games). His US$6-million contract was seen as too pricey for a team that needs to find room under the salary cap when McDavid’s deal kicks in next July.

Strome, drafted fifth overall in 2011, has underperformed to date. Last season he notched 13 goals and 30 points in 69 games, firing the puck at the net just 114 times.

McLellan said the plan for Strome is simple.

“We’ve got to get his shot totals up a little bit,” he said. “With his skill level and the players he’ll play with, he’s got to get the puck there a lot more. That will be a challenge for him.”

Strome said he’s ready to go to school.

“It’s pretty impressive how (McDavid) can move and the things he can do at top speed,” said Strome. “I’ve just got to complement him as best I can, make little plays and learn and adjust. He does so many great things out there, you just want to try to learn every day and get those little tendencies down.”

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.

Lucic said everyone is excited to be back, noting he’s reduced his body fat over the summer, working out in Los Angeles with retired NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens.

He said Owens pushed everyone to be better.

“When he saw myself or someone else in the gym maybe not getting a full rep out, he’d be the first guy to call him out. He’d let the whole gym know,” Lucic said with a laugh.

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