EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers began training camp with physicals Thursday, but head coach Todd McLellan said it’s the mental part of the game that is going to be key this season.
“We are going to have to get mentally stronger,” McLellan told reporters at Rexall Place. “Our point where we succumb to the score or (to) the opposition has to get pushed a lot further, a lot longer.
“There’s going to be some tough times. There will be some days where it’s not going real well. And I’ll be really interested to see the group during those moments.”
McLellan, in his first year behind the Edmonton bench, inherits a team that has not made the playoffs for nine consecutive seasons, consistently finishing so deep in the NHL standings it has landed the top draft pick four of the last six years.
The Oilers’ core group of forwards — Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle — has known nothing but failure at the pro level.
McLellan said the issue is not about failing, but bouncing back from the inevitable failure.
“Mentally strong teams have poor patches during the season. It’s an automatic thing. But they come out of it quick, they come out of it confident. They go back to their foundation and basics.
“The weaker teams tend to stay in it a little bit longer.
“The pushback thing is a big thing for me, the mental strength to keep going. Get through the crap, if you will, when it’s not going well.”
The Oilers won 24 games for 62 points last season, good for 28th place, which then led to a successful lottery leap to draft teen phenom Connor McDavid with the first pick.
Edmonton goaltender Ben Scrivens, who will battle newcomer Cam Talbot for the top job in camp, said the losing can knock players off their game.
“There were tough lessons that I learned last year … trying to do a little bit too much, which comes when you care about the results,” said Scrivens.
“Sometimes it leads you down the wrong path where now you’re worrying (about) things that are out of your control.”
This spring the Oilers overhauled their organization. There’s a new general manager (Peter Chiarelli), new coaching staff, and a new scouting staff along with a number of new players like defencemen Andrej Sekera, Griffin Reinhart and Eric Gryba.
But McLellan said there’s no magic wand.
“We still have 75 to 80 per cent of the players from last year’s group that were not capable of getting it done. There’s some big changes play-wise and commitment-wise that (have) to happen.”
The X-factor is McDavid and how quickly the young centre with the otherworldly offensive skills can begin bending the league to his will.
Scrivens urged fans to temper expectations.
“He’s obviously going to be a phenomenal player for a long time in this league, but you can’t expect him to do everything overnight,” said Scrivens.
McLellan said McDavid’s outsized fan following is just a fact of life with the new Oilers.
“If you could put some truth serum in (McDavid) he probably just wants to be an 18-year-old and fit in like the rest of them, and doesn’t want to be treated special,” said McLellan.
“But when you have that skill set and you’ve had it that long, that environment is created.”