Connor McDavid said he believes the Edmonton Oilers are closer to challenging for the Stanley Cup than they have been in his NHL career.
“Obviously that’s the ultimate goal, and all those other things don’t really mean anything unless you win,” McDavid said Tuesday. “It’s always what I’ve wanted to do. I have an opportunity here with this group to play a good [Winnipeg] Jets team and go from there.”
The Oilers face the Jets in the best-of-7 Stanley Cup First Round with Game 1 in Edmonton on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS) after placing second in the seven-team Scotia North Division, five points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs. After a 3-6-0 start to the season, Edmonton finished 35-19-2 and had the best winning percentage (.702) in the division and fifth-best in the NHL since Jan. 29, behind the Colorado Avalanche (.750), Vegas Golden Knights (.724), Carolina Hurricanes (.712) and Pittsburgh Penguins (.708).
McDavid led the Oilers with 105 points (33 goals, 72 assists) in 56 games and will win the Art Ross Trophy as NHL scoring leader. Edmonton’s captain was 31 points ahead of teammate Leon Draisaitl and had the fourth 100-point season and the best points-per-game average (1.88) of his six-season NHL career. He became the ninth player in NHL history to score at least 100 points in 53 games (Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Jari Kurri, Phil Esposito, Bernie Nicholls, Steve Yzerman and Marcel Dionne).
The individual accomplishments are in the past for McDavid. It is a singular focus on a third trip to the NHL postseason and what it will take to find team success after learning the lessons of past shortcomings. The Oilers were the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference last season but lost in four games to the 12th-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers.
“We’re defending better, playing harder, probably just a little more mature,” said McDavid, who has scored 18 points (10 goals, eight assists) in 17 NHL postseason games. “I think that’s the main thing, that guys are just starting to figure out this game and figure out what it takes to win and how hard it is and the sacrifices that you have to do to make that happen.
“This is not like it’s our first playoff game. We certainly haven’t played a ton, but we have that experience to draw on. We have our experience from the bubble last year and how quickly a series can turn on you. All good experiences and we’ve learned lots of lessons but it’s time to put those lessons to good use.”
McDavid was careful to say talk of the Oilers being better with increased maturity will not be enough to defeat the Jets, but he does see improvement this season.
“Playoffs back-to-back years is obviously the start of something,” he said. “The teams that win are the teams that get in each and every year. I think for us, we can’t look past a very, very good Winnipeg team. They’re going to bring so many challenges and we’ve got to be ready for them.”
McDavid scored 22 points (seven goals, 15 assists) against the Jets this season. The Oilers were 7-2-0.
“It’s worth absolutely nothing, ultimately,” McDavid said. “The regular season’s done and that season series is done and now it’s a race to four [wins] and that’s all that matters. It’s such a different game and we’ve got to be ready right away.”