With the Edmonton Oilers closing in on a playoff berth, head coach Dave Tippett credits the team’s leadership group for providing a spark.
“They’re a driven group that wants this team to be successful,” Tippett said on Friday’s edition of Oilers Now with Bob Stauffer.
“They’ve gone through some challenges, even out challenges in the bubble last year. They’re all learning experiences.
“They want to take it to next level. They have the ability to take it to the next level.”
Tippett has seen the team recover from a 3-6 start to sit solidly in second in the North Division with a record of 29-17-2. Captain Connor McDavid has led the way, racking up 84 points so far.
“He’s taken his game to another level in all aspects of it. Offence, defence, face-offs. All of it has been really strong this year,” Tippett said. “He’s an amazing player that has an impact on every game.”
The Oilers have been searching for players to play with McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and round out their top two lines. While that remains a work in progress, Jesse Puljujarvi has been on McDavid’s right wing much of the season.
“The surprise is how quickly he’s adapted coming back from the European style,” Tippett said. “He’s a big body. He can win loose pucks. The smaller ice, with how competitive he is in front of the net and in the corners has been a good thing for him. He creates a lot of loose pucks.
“His work ethic in the offensive zone and his work ethic coming back to our zone have been outstanding.”
On the blue line, Darnell Nurse is having the best year of his career. His 14 goals are second in the league among defencemen.
“Darnell Nurse has stepped up and really taken a step forward. That was a big challenge with (Oscar) Klefbom being out. That was a question mark coming into the year — who was going to take those minutes? Could he excel with them? Nurse has certainly done that.”
With the regular season winding down, Tippett will try to make sure his roster is ready for the playoffs. That could involved defenceman Evan Bouchard seeing action. Bouchard, 21, hasn’t played a game since March 1.
“There’s a chance. We have to kind of monitor where we’re at and make sure we have a people who can go into a playoff game if need be,” Tippett said.
Read more: Edmonton Oilers fall to Calgary Flames
The Oilers will host the Calgary Flames Saturday night. The Face-off Show on 630 CHED will start at 6:30 p.m. The game starts at 8 p.m.