Could the Edmonton Oilers really reach the 2017 Stanley Cup Final?
You better start warming up to the idea, and consider picking them in yourStanley Cup Playoffs Bracket Challenge.
With 20-year-old phenom Connor McDavid at the center of it all, the Oilers have asgood a shot as anyone to advance through a very winnableWestern Conference bracket and return to the Stanley Cup Final. (Let's talk about how Edmonton would fare against Washington a different day.)
Forget that the Oilers' best player can't slug a beer south of the border. Forget that other teams in the West have triple thepostseason experience. The Oilershave what it takes to makea deep postseason run.
NHL playoffs bracket: Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final?
Here are four reasons why the Oilers could make the Stanley Cup Final:
1. They have Connor McDavid.
Surprise, surprise — the league's leading scorer is the main reason why the Oilers are contenders. Without him, who knows if Edmonton would even be in the playoffs?No player is more important to his team's success than McDavid. He's becoming such an explosive scorer that he's making a strong claim to be theleague's best player.McDavid led the league in points (100) and assists (70). He's in the middle of everything the Oilers do.He was involved in aleague-leading41.1percent of the team's goals this season. He has not gone more than two games in a row without a point. With him in charge, the Oilers are dangerous.
2. They're coming in hot.
The Oilers are playing their best hockey at the right time. They won 12 of their last 14 regular-season games and scored seven goals in a game three times in that stretch. Teams that limp into the postseason rarely make a run toward the Cup. According toCurtis Rush of The Wall Street Journal, only three Stanley Cup champions going back to 1990 played their final 10 games of the regular season under .500 That's good news for Edmonton.
3. They're in a winnable bracket.
Edmonton must be giddy about drawingSan Jose in Round 1. The Sharks are playing perhaps the worst hockey of all 16 playoff teams. They finished the regularseason 4-9 in their last 13 games, a stretch that included a six-game losing streak.Edmonton is guaranteed to avoidboth the Blackhawks and Wild, the West's top two teams,in the first two rounds. Plus, Edmonton was an NHL-best33-11-6 against the West this season, outscoring opponents163-114.Ina seven-game series, I likethose numbers. Among the West's playoff teams, only the Ducks and Predators have defeated Edmonton twice in regulation.
4. They have no glaring weakness.
The Oilers have an explosive top line, a solid goaltender in Cam Talbot, goodpower-play and penalty-kill units, and a sturdyback end. When you look at the other top teams in the West, their weaknesses are apparent.Anaheimdoesn't score enough.Chicago's special teams are suspect. Minnesota is limping into the playoffs. St. Louis doesn't have great depth.
The one thing working against Edmonton is its age. The Oilers are theyoungest playoff team aside from the Maple Leafs. Their core ofMcDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins andOscar Klefbom have never appeared in a playoff game. On the other hand, veterans Milan Lucic,Benoit Pouliot andPatrick Maroon have enough experienceto help bring the young guys along.
After snapping its 11-year playoff drought this season, Edmonton is well-equipped to end its27-year Stanley Cup drought, too.