by Eric Fulton
In 1979, the Edmonton Oilers selected a young, highly touted prospect named Wayne Gretzky. For much of the 1980s, the Oilers became one of the premier teams in all of the National Hockey League (NHL). When Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988, it began a chain reaction to which it helped the NHL expand in the United States.
However, the Oilers franchise would never be the same. They were a strong contender in the Western Conference, but couldn’t duplicate what the team did when Gretzky was the leader. Times have been really tough over the last several years. Since the lockout of 2004-2005, the Oilers have only made one playoff appearance. That year was 2005-2006 when they went all the way to game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals and that year they were the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Since 2006-2007, Edmonton has finished at or near the bottom of the NHL standings every year. The results meant they would have the top spot in each summer’s NHL draft. Notable players who were selected by Edmonton include Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov. While these guys are still developing with the team in their early 20s, the Oilers once again finished with the worst record in the NHL in 2014-2015. Once again, they selected a player first overall who some say is the next Wayne Gretzky. That kid is Connor McDavid.
When the NHL returned for the 2005-2006 season, they had a kid named Sidney Crosby who was deemed the greatest player since Gretzky retired in 1999. Although Crosby has gone on to win MVPs and a Stanley Cup title in 2009, many hockey fans would say that Crosby is no Gretzky and over the last few seasons, Crosby can’t seem to stay fully healthy either.
What does that mean for McDavid?
For one, if he can produce awesome numbers in his rookie season as projected, he has to stay healthy for the whole season. It will not come easy for McDavid as opponents left and right will try to knockout the young phenom. He is not just expected to win the Calder Trophy, the NHL’s Rookie of the Year, he’s also expected to lead the Oilers in goals, assists and points. A major task to accomplish for a rookie.
Although experts say the Oilers will not make the Stanley Cup playoffs this upcoming season, they do say the Oilers will improve with McDavid being in the fold with Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. Edmonton also has a new head coach in Todd McClellan, who led the San Jose Sharks to multiple playoff appearances. I believe they will contend for a playoff spot in the West, but I agree with the experts, as well. Look for the Oilers to be in the playoffs starting in the 2016-2017 season.
Will McDavid become the next great NHL legend? Only time will tell. But, look for him to get off to a great start in his rookie campaign. Great players do have to start somewhere in order to have a successful career. Hopefully for McDavid, the Oilers and the NHL this year will be the start of something special.