Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl need to become more “battle-tested” if the Edmonton Oilers are going to contend for the Stanley Cup, general manager Ken Holland said Tuesday.
Holland said he hopes the Oilers’ loss in four games to the Chicago Blackhawks in their best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifier series will be valuable experience for the forwards, who were the two leading scorers in the NHL this season.
“They are getting better, but I also think in this playoff series, we were playing against battle-tested players,” Holland said. “Some players there won three Stanley Cups. They have to learn that too.”
Chicago forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and defenseman Duncan Keith were players in the lineup against Edmonton who have won three championships (2010, 2013 and 2015) with the Blackhawks.
Toews led Chicago with seven points (four goals, three assists) in the series. Kane scored four points (one goal, three assists), and Keith had four assists.
This was the second time McDavid, who entered the NHL in the 2015-16 season, and Draisaitl, who made his NHL debut in 2014-15, have been to the postseason. The Oilers reached the Western Conference Second Round in 2017, losing in seven games to the Anaheim Ducks.
Draisaitl won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL scoring leader this season with 110 points (43 goals, 67 assists) in 71 games, then scored six points (three goals, three assists) in the four games against Chicago. He is a finalist for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP.
McDavid, who was voted the Hart winner in 2016-17 and won the Art Ross in 2016-17 and 2017-18, was second to Draisaitl in scoring this season with 97 points (34 goals, 63 assists) in 64 games. In the Qualifiers, he led the NHL with nine points (five goals, four assists) in four games.
The Oilers (37-25-9, .585 points percentage), the No. 5 seed in the West, failed to advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs; the Blackhawks (32-30-8, .514) were the No. 12 seed in the conference.
Holland used the Blackhawks as a measuring stick Tuesday when asked if the Oilers’ top two players need to give up some of their offense to make a stronger defensive commitment.
“I saw that happening,” Holland said. “You’re talking about the two guys, but certainly our entire team, we are learning that defense is as important as offense in terms of going for long playoff runs. That’s the experience I’m talking about. I’m believing and hoping that this Chicago series, this disappointment, is going to be an experience down the road so they are, we are getting better.
“We’re making progress. They’re learning. They’re getting better. (Coach) Dave Tippett asked them to work harder away from the puck. I watched it. They did.”
Holland said forward Tyler Ennis broke his right leg in Game 3 and sustained ligament damage to his ankle. He left the game late in the second period after being checked into the boards behind the Edmonton net by Chicago forward Kirby Dach. Ennis, who can become an unrestricted free agent after this season, is expected to need 2 1/2 months to recover. He scored two points (one goal, one assist) in three games in the series.
Defenseman Adam Larsson was unable to play in Games 3 and 4 because of a back injury, Holland said.