Touted as a once-in-a generation talent, Connor McDavid already has lived up to the hype, one major reason why the Edmonton Oilers are a trendy pick to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. Amid great expectations, McDavid and the Oilers open the season against another team with lofty ambitions when they host the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night.
The 20-year-old McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, became the highest-paid player in hockey after signing an eight-year, $100 million contract in July, which came on the heels of earning league MVP honors and leading the NHL in scoring. “We expect ourselves to have a good team and do what we did last year,” McDavid said of Edmonton, which advanced to the conference semifinals last season. “We expect ourselves to have a good year. Other people do too. I guess that’s the only difference (from last season), that outside expectation.” The Flames, buoyed by elite offensive talent in the first-line pairing of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, also reached the playoffs last season and spent the offseason shoring up their goaltending and defense to load up for another run in the rugged Western Conference. Calgary first needs to close the gap on its provincial rival — Edmonton won all four Battle of Alberta meetings by a combined 20-11 score and set the tone by piling up 12 goals in a season-opening, home-and-home sweep a year ago.
TV: 10 p.m. ET, TVAS, Sportsnet
ABOUT THE FLAMES (2016-17: 45-33-4, 4th in Pacific Division): Calgary thought it solved its goaltending woes a year ago with the acquisition of Brian Elliott, but it didn’t go as planned and prompted the team to swing a deal with Arizona for veteran netminder Mike Smith. Eddie Lack provides a reliable backup in goal and the defense was bolstered with a trade for former Islanders blue-liner Travis Hamonic and the re-signing of Michael Stone to augment a unit headed by the tandem of captain Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton. A dozen players scored at least 12 goals last season but only Monahan (27) and Mikael Backlund (22) eclipsed 20 — and Monahan had his lowest point total since his rookie season while Gaudreau dipped from 30 goals and 78 points to 18 and 61. On Monday, Calgary signed Jaromir Jagr, 45, the NHL’s No. 2 career scorer.
ABOUT THE OILERS (2016-17: 47-26-9, 2nd in Pacific Division): Limited to 45 games due to injury in his rookie season, McDavid erupted for league-high totals of 100 points and 70 assists, including four goals and three assists in the four meetings versus Calgary. Linemate Leon Draisaitl is coming off a breakout campaign, producing 29 goals and 48 assists before amassing 16 points in his final nine postseason games, while Patrick Maroon (27 goals) and Milan Lucic combined for 50 tallies. Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson form the top defensive pairing but Edmonton will be without a key cog on the blue line while Andrej Sekera continues to rehab from knee surgery. The last line of defense is in capable hands — netminder Cam Talbot appeared in an NHL-high 73 games last season and tied for the league lead with 42 victories.
1. Smith yielded nine goals to the Oilers while splitting four decisions against them with the Coyotes in 2016-17.
2. Draisaitl scored twice and set up three tallies in the sweep of Calgary last season.
3. Gaudreau was limited to two assists against Edmonton last season.
PREDICTION: Oilers 4, Flames 2