May 12, 2017 5:32 pm
Updated: May 23, 2017 1:44 pm

Oilers head into the off-season knowing the bar for 2017-18 has been lifted

Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan has reunited McDavid and winger Leon Draisaitl with forward Patrick Maroon in the last two days of practice.

Jason Franson, The Canadian Press

The Edmonton Oilers spent Friday cleaning out their lockers instead of preparing for Game 1 of the Western Conference Final.

The Oilers came oh-so-close to advancing to the third round after falling 2-1 to the Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 on Wednesday night. Despite the result, there seemed to be a resounding theme from most of the players when looking back at how this season played out.

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“I’m definitely proud to be a part of this group,” said Oilers captain Connor McDavid. “It’s fun to be a part of this.”

READ MORE: Edmonton Oilers to play first Game 7 in over a decade

 “We’ve come a long way and made a lot of strides,” explained Oilers forward Patrick Maroon.

“Guys should be really proud. We’re so close and it’s only going to get better.”

This Oilers team has every right to be proud of what they accomplished. The Oilers jumped all the way from 29th in the overall standings to eighth this season. This group also brought playoff hockey back to the city of Edmonton for the first time since 2006. But what’s next?

“We’ve turned the page. Just like in the playoffs, we talked about parking games, we’ve gotta park this year now. We are already beginning to prepare for next year in my opinion,” said Oilers head coach Todd McLellan. “We had a good run, but this should become what the standard is. That’s our goal: is to make this type of year the standard then push it from here.”

READ MORE: Edmonton Oilers force Game 7 after devastating the Ducks in 7-1 win

“We definitely have to change our expectations. I don’t think a lot of people had us going to the second round in September,” added McDavid. “Coming into next year I think it has to be a different mindset. We aren’t going to surprise teams anymore. Teams know we are a good hockey team and we need to be ready for that.”

The Oilers certainly have the right pieces in place to get back into the playoffs next season. More experience for some of their young stars should also go a long way. But every off-season brings changes, and changes will be coming for this group despite such a strong year.

“We have a general feel of what the roster will look like but there a number of different factors that come into moving forward,” explained McLellan.  “There is expansion, the business part of the cap, contracts, free agency, restricted free agency, all of those things need to be taken into consideration.

“Basically we are on the counter with a whole bunch of ingredients now. Do we need to buy a little more flour, a little more sugar? That’s what we need to figure out over the next little bit.”

The other thing the Oilers now have going for them, is belief. That may go a long way when it comes to this team taking that next step of competing for a Stanley Cup.

“The Game 7 loss is going to be on my mind all summer,” added Patrick Maroon. “This team is so close. Maybe next year we will be competing for the Stanley Cup. I believe this team is going to win a Stanley Cup here in the next few years.”

The belief is there, but now it’s a waiting game for this group with the off-season approaching.

First up are the NHL Awards and the Expansion Draft in Las Vegas on June 21, 2017.

McDavid is up for the Hart Trophy and the Ted Lindsay award. McLellan is also in the mix for the Jack Adams Award.

The NHL Draft will take place on June 23 and 24. NHL Free Agency officially opens on July 1.

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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