With the Edmonton Oilers being bounced out of the NHL playoffs in four straight by the Winnipeg Jets, the team’s two star players are trying to balance frustration and optimism.
“We know we’re on the right track,” forward Leon Draisaitl said on Tuesday. “But with that being said, we do know it’s time for us now.
“We don’t have another five years. (The) last two years were amazing and great, and we’re building something bigger.
“Next year, we’re going to look to take another step forward and be an even better team.”
“I think the standard has gone up. That’s kind of where it all starts,” said captain Connor McDavid. “We come to the rink everyday and demand better from each other, expect better each other.
“If this was a couple years ago, we’d be sitting here just so happy that we got to play four playoff games. That’s not the case today. We want more. We want lots more.”
McDavid topped the NHL in scoring in the regular season with 103 points in 56 games. Draisaitl was next best with 84. Despite that, the Oilers were left wanting for offence.
Depth contributions were few and far between and proved costly in the sweep by the Jets. For the Oilers to improve next season, youngsters like Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan McLeod will have to take on larger roles.
“They took good steps this year, but they’re going to get better and better,” said Draisaitl. “It’s going to be more normal to produce.
“We have some great kids who work so hard and they’re so skilled. They’re going to take the next steps. We know that.”
With McDavid and Draisaitl doing so much of the heavy lifting for the Oilers, the club’s inability to add support players to the roster remains a heavy criticism. McDavid was asked if he could eventually become unhappy playing for the Oilers if the roster around him doesn’t improve.
“That’s not the case at all. We have a great core here,” said McDavid. “We want to see this thing through together.
“We want to do this thing right as a group.”
Also on Tuesday, defenceman Adam Larsson and forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins spoke about becoming free agents this summer. Both said there haven’t been recent contract talks and they love playing for the Oilers.
Defenceman Tyson Barrie, who will also be a free agent, said he’d like to look for a long-term deal from a team after signing for one year with Edmonton in the fall. Barrie was the league’s top scoring defenceman.
Goalie Mike Smith, who turned 39 in March, said it’s too soon for him to make any decisions about his future.