Connor McDavid is the latest in a recent string of No. 1 overall picks expected to help revive a once-proud Edmonton Oilers franchise that has missed the playoffs for nine straight seasons.
It’s probably why new coach Todd McLellan didn’t sugarcoat the debut of the 18-year-old who has been dubbed the NHL’s best prospect since Sidney Crosby.
McDavid’s next challenge is to try and solve Pekka Rinne as the Oilers visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday night.
Edmonton selected first in the draft for the fourth time in six years in June, as McDavid joined Taylor Hall (2010), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (’11) and Nail Yakupov (’12) as the top selections in that stretch.
None of the others before McDavid have been able to help the Oilers reach the playoffs for the first time since they lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final to Carolina in 2006. McLellan was hired this offseason as the seventh coach during the drought and hopes to get the most out of his young core.
Nugent-Hopkins was credited with Edmonton’s goal in a 3-1 loss to St. Louis on Thursday, but that came on a fluke when a Blues defenseman shot it off a teammate and into the net trying to clear the puck while shorthanded.
McDavid played an inconsistent 18:07 in his anticipated debut, mostly on a line with Hall and Anton Slepyshev, who also was playing his first NHL game.
"At times I thought he was very dangerous and at other times I didn’t think that line had a lot going," McLellan said of McDavid. "So it’s a matter of timing and chemistry and trying to find the right combinations for him and his linemates."
McDavid acknowledged he could’ve been better after finishing minus-1 with two shots on goal and losing 10 of his 13 faceoffs.
"I did some good stuff, did some bad stuff," McDavid said. "There’s obviously some stuff to improve on. We didn’t finish the way we wanted to, but for the most part we were right there."
The Oilers now try to snap a three-game skid against the Predators, who also hope to put together a more complete effort.
Craig Smith scored and Viktor Arvidsson followed with his first NHL goal in the opening period as Nashville outshot Carolina 14-5 on Thursday, but it had just 11 shots the rest of the way in a 2-1 win.
Rinne made 25 saves and lost a shutout on Eric Staal’s goal with 1:40 remaining.
"We played great hockey in the first, but we let off the gas for sure, and we knew they weren’t going to give up," said defenseman Seth Jones, who assisted on both goals. "Pek made some huge saves for us and we got some timely bounces."
Rinne provided a boost as he did time and again last season, when he won 41 games with a 2.18 goals-against average while helping the Predators to a surprising second-place finish in the Central Division and being named a Vezina Trophy finalist.
He posted a 0.98 GAA while winning all three starts against the Oilers last season and had a 37-save shutout the last time he faced them Nov. 27.
Cam Talbot is getting his first opportunity to be a full-time starter after Edmonton acquired him from the New York Rangers in the offseason. He’s 2-1-0 with a 1.35 GAA in three starts against the Predators and likely will be in net after making 28 saves Thursday.