Leadership can take many forms and can come from any place on the roster, but it almost always translates better when it’s provided by the best players on the team. That’s what happened with the Edmonton Oilers when Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl showed up at the rink Sunday fresh from the NHL All-Star game ready to go to work.
Nobody would have given it a thought if Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who’d represented the Edmonton Oilers in St. Louis, had given Sunday a pass and showed up today to take an afternoon twirl at West Edmonton Mall before an autograph session. Instead, coach Dave Tippett’s two best players strapped on their gear and got back at it. That sends a message, even if that wasn’t the primary reason they were back on the blades.
That bodes well, or should, for a team that hit the all-star break on a 6-1-1 roll that has them at 26-18-5 and in the mix in a race atop that Pacific Division that has the top five team separated by one point. The Vancouver Canucks has 58 points, followed by the Oilers, Calgary Flames, Arizona Coyotes and Vegas Golden Knights with 57 points. Essentially, as Tippett said Sunday, the stretch drive is here now, about a month early.
With the Oilers opening their post-break schedule with a much-anticipated rematch against the Calgary Flames Wednesday and the stretch beckoning, there’s no better time than now to get on it. That’s exactly the message McDavid and Draisaitl sent, intended or otherwise, by forgoing an afternoon on the couch Sunday. This is what they play for. Get on with it.
IN THE GAME
“We’re right in it,” said Darnell Nurse. “It’s a position that, if you’d have asked us at the beginning of the year if we wanted to be in a nice dog fight from all-star break on to the end, we’d have been more than happy to be a part of it. Gonna be fun. We’re hungry. We all believe we have the right guys to do it.”
“We’re at a point now where, we’ve got ourselves in the game,” Tippett said. “I’ve never seen it this close within a division. Basically, your stretch drive starts a month early. The importance of every game, every point, is magnified because the standings are going to jump around every day.
“The first part of the year you get to know your team. Now, these games get tighter. You can’t have soft nights. You need everyone to contribute, and that will be magnified because of the importance of every game.”
With 33 games to go, there’s a lot of hockey to play, and there’s more anticipation around here about what’s to come than there has been since 2016-17, when the Oilers finished with 103 points and went two rounds deep in the playoffs. When you’ve got McDavid, whose inspiring off-season rehab story came to light during the break, and Draisaitl providing leadership with actions and not just words, that’s a pretty good place to start. Let’s play.
I’ve never heard of Buddy Robinson, but the Flames have called up the six-foot-six, 225-pound forward from the Stockton Heat of the AHL and he could play against the Oilers on Wednesday in the latest edition of the BOA — the first game between the teams since the dust-up between Zack Kassian and Matt Tkachuk.
To call Robinson, 28, a sluggo might be a bit unfair. He had 16 goals and 30 points for the Heat in 40 games at the time of his recall. He had 25 goals with the Manitoba Moose in 2017-18. He’s not completely devoid of ability, but there’s no getting around the fact the Flames don’t want to be caught light if the rematch turns into a rumble.
Robinson, undrafted, has seven NHL games on his hockey resume since turning pro in 2012-13, all of them with the Ottawa Senators. He’s scored 1-1-2 in those seven games. As for what else he brings to the table, you can check out his fistic prowess, such as it is, from hockeyfights.com.