As the St. Louis Blues try to turn the page on another disappointing ending, the Edmonton Oilers embark on their latest new beginning.
There’s reason to believe this rebuild will work out better than ones past, however.
Phenom Connor McDavid’s NHL debut takes center stage as the Oilers open the Todd McClellan era with Thursday’s visit to the defending Central Division champion Blues.
Edmonton (24-44-14) enters 2015-16 with the league’s longest playoff absence at nine seasons but struck gold in April’s Draft Lottery, obtaining the No. 1 overall pick despite finishing with the third-worst record and using it on McDavid, the consensus best prospect to come out of the junior ranks since Sidney Crosby. The 18-year-old will center the second line alongside Taylor Hall, another of the four No. 1 overall selections made by the Oilers since 2010 on the current roster.
McDavid is the headliner of a slew of new faces both on the ice and in the front office after Edmonton’s latest makeover. Former Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson took over as head of hockey operations in April and brought in former Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli as the new GM. McClellan was subsequently named head coach shortly after parting ways with the San Jose Sharks after a mostly successful seven-year run.
McClellan’s San Jose teams went to consecutive Western Conference finals in 2009-10 and 2010-11 and reached the playoffs six straight years before missing out in 2014-15. His tenure was marred by three straight early playoff exits between 2012-14, a concept St. Louis (51-24-7) has become all too familiar with in recent years.
The Blues have been bounced in the first round three straight seasons despite holding home-ice advantage in each series, last falling to Minnesota in six games following a 109-point campaign to match Anaheim for most in the West.
”We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. ”It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.
The latest playoff failure still triggered few personnel changes, the most notable being July’s trade of popular forward T.J. Oshie to Washington for veteran wing Troy Brouwer and the departure of longtime defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise’s career leader in games played.
Dynamic forward Vladimir Tarasenko, tied for fifth in the NHL with 37 goals last season, remains part of the core after signing an eight-year, $60 million contract in July.
St. Louis stuck with its solid but unspectacular goaltending tandem of Brian Elliott and Jake Allen, with Elliott slated to start the opener.
The Oilers made a host of offseason revisions in an effort to upgrade a defense that yielded a league-high 276 goals, signing Andrej Sekera to a six-year, $33 million deal and acquiring fellow defenseman Eric Gryba and goaltender Cam Talbot in trades.
Talbot gets its first shot at a No. 1 gig after going 33-15-5 with a 2.00 goals-against average over two seasons as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup with the New York Rangers, highlighted by a strong two-month stint last winter with Lundqvist sidelined by a neck injury.
”I thought he was resilient,” Chiarelli said. ”I thought he played well, and really didn’t panic in his play; didn’t overextend himself.”
Both teams will begin the season without a key forward. Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle, last season’s team leader with 63 points, is expected to miss four to six weeks with a shoulder injury while St. Louis’ Patrik Berglund will be sidelined until January following shoulder surgery.