‘This was always part of the plan:’ Oilers ready to take their game to the NHL’s biggest stage

Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
12 days ago
When the Edmonton Oilers won the 2015 NHL draft lottery to draft Connor McDavid first overall, it was easy to look into the future and see what could happen with this franchise.
Edmonton hoped McDavid, a generational, once-in-a-lifetime prospect, would help the Oilers get to where they are today in preparing for the Stanley Cup Finals. Bumpy roads in between, the club knows what’s at stake this month.
“This was always part of the plan,” McDavid said after the Oilers’ Game 6 win over the Dallas Stars. “It always has been for this group. It’s been a bit of a bumpy road, obviously, whether it be off years or heartbreak in the playoffs, or whatever it is, this was always part of the plan to be in this moment.
“I think the group has always stuck with it. We’ve always believed in ourselves and each other. To put ourselves in this position was always a possibility and it feels good to have done that.”
The bumps in the road for McDavid and these Oilers have been significant. The Oilers were out of the playoff picture in his injury-ravaged rookie season, but in year two, he exploded onto the scene with 30 goals and 72 assists, marking his first 100-point season in the NHL.
They got the job done against the San Jose Sharks in round one by eliminating them in six games, setting up a date with the Anaheim Ducks in round two. While assuredly hopeful of being able to make it back to the postseason the following year, they took a big step back failing to find a playoff spot in two consecutive seasons.
In 2019-20, they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in four games in the qualifying round before getting swept against the Winnipeg Jets the following year. But a deep run to the Western Conference Finals in 2022 and a disappointing loss to the Golden Knights in 2023 gave them the requisite experience to ensure no more early exits.
Oilers head coach Kris Knobauch said when he took over early this season, they were hopeful the team would rebound to a playoff spot where they could make a strong push, even if they weren’t certain how they’d get there.
“I knew there was a really good team here, good players and things were going to sort themselves out,” he said after teh Game 6 win. “How they were going to sort out, we weren’t sure how well.
“We weren’t anticipating eight and 16 game winning streaks, but definitely a team that was going to rebound and get into the playoffs and have a strong push in the playoffs, absolutely that was the plan. I think at the time when I joined, and I think anytime when you get a coaching change, there’s usually frustration and there’s definitely frustration on how the team had been playing, where they were in the standings, and we just had to kind of sort things out and look short term. Just start putting together some little win streaks and I think they were able to do that.”
The short-term approach worked to their benefit. They took what seemed like an insurmountable standings deficit and found a way to push back to the postseason. Things weren’t always smooth even in their journey through the Western Conference Finals. Knoblauch’s decision to pull Stuart Skinner for Games 4 and 5 against the Vancouver Canucks highlighted that.
But the job’s not finished. The Oilers still have to find four more wins if they have hopes of lifting Lord Stanley’s Mug and bringing it back to Edmonton for the first time since 1990.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@thenationnetwork.com.

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