Edmonton's New Wave: Stanley Cup hopes built on McDavid & Draisaitl but also the new, new and more new

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Game 1: Oilers vs Canucks

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were just voted the first and second best players in the National Hockey League by TSN.

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But there’s more to Edmonton’s Stanley Cup run this year than McDavid and Draisaitl.

There’s a new wave on the team, a new wave of young talent, a new wave of tactics and a new attitude that has evidently swept over the Oilers.

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New talent

There’s one new veteran on the team in Connor Brown. He replaces Kailer Yamamoto in the Top Six. Yamamoto was a fine player, but small, and tended to get pushed out of the game through injury and physical play. Brown is bigger, defensively aware, just as fast and just as tenacious as Yamamoto.

Mattias Ekholm isn’t new to the team, but it’s his first full season with the Oilers. The team is hoping he’ll provide a steadying influence for Philip Broberg. A defensive pairing of two 6-foot 4-inch 220 pounds Swedes who can skate and make plays is a tantalizing prospect for the Oilers, all the more so because it means the team will have an exceptional bottom-pairing in Brett Kulak and Cody Ceci, two solid veterans.

The other new talent on the team comes with the expected blossoming of two third line players, Dylan Holloway and Ryan McLeod.

McLeod and Warren Foegele teamed up with Derek Ryan to provide strong two-way play against Vegas, with Ryan leading the way on that unit with his smart and conscientious defending. Ryan is still an Oiler, teaming up with crafty Mattias Janmark on the fourth line, but Holloway offers much to the third line. He’s a fast, aggressive and highly-skilled player, one who should challenge to make one of the top two lines if anyone gets injured.

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New tactics and a new attitude

Edmonton’s great weakness last season was defensive play. The team was mediocre in the regular season, then fall apart against Vegas, getting a lead in every single game but failing to hold it in four of them, giving up almost four goals per game on average. It was a shambles, a weak, even embarrassing display, so much so that it’s evident Edmonton’s players, from the top of the roster to the bottom, have a new attitude heading into the season. They appear determined to do the little things on defence — such as always staying on the right side of your check in the d-zone — that they failed to do against Vegas.

Coach Jay Woodcroft’s new defensive systems will also help immensley. I’ve heard Oilers players and insiders say they’ve just tweaked a few things, but that’s not what I’ve seen in preseason. Instead, Edmonton’s defence has undergone a massive overhaul, switching from the previous man-to-man system (one that Vegas exploited relentlessly and repeatedly) to a zone defence (the kind Vegas used to significantly slow the Oilers attack). In the preseason, I saw no man-to-man in Edmonton’s end, the team going with the zone exclusively, and with good results. The games were far more controlled, with Edmonton cutting down on wide open looks in front of its own net.

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Edmonton’s also adopted a much more conservative neutral-zone trap. It doesn’t use this system exclusively, but I expect we’ll see a lot of it when the Oilers have a lead.

Of course in a 32 team league, with about 10 teams have the talent to win the Cup, there are no guarantees that the Oilers will do so. But this regular season I expect to see a much more disciplined and defensively determined Edmonton squad, one that is going to present a massive amount of trouble to the opposition, starting tonight against Vancouver.

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