Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl know their Stanley Cup window is wide open.
Two painful playoff exits has the Edmonton Oilers' dynamic duo hungrier than ever to push through.
The club made the Western Conference final in 2022 before falling to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche. The Oilers were then stopped in their tracks last spring – again by the team that would go onto hoist hockey's holy grail – in the second round by the Vegas Golden Knights.
"Didn't feel like we were consistent enough for large portions of the series," McDavid said at this week's NHL/NHLPA player media tour just outside Las Vegas. "Little mistakes here and there that compounded. Good lessons learned.
"It was a close series. It was highly competitive."
Draisaitl said the Oilers realize they need to be just that much better.
"In crucial moments of Games 5 and 6, (Vegas) made a couple less mistakes than we did," said the 27-year-old set to enter his 10th NHL season. "They played maybe a bit of a mature game in those certain moments and they deserved to move on.
"We couldn't find our 'A' game during those moments. Sometimes that's all it takes."
He added the back-to-back disappointments fuel Edmonton's fire.
"There's a reason we didn't move on, there's a reason we didn't win," Draisaitl said at the same two-day league event in Henderson, Nev. "But we're definitely not far away. I certainly feel that way. I think we all do.
"I think the entire league feels that way about us if I went around and asked, but we gotta move on. We gotta mature from these mistakes and learn from them, and eventually get over that hump."
The 26-year-old McDavid, who's heading into his ninth NHL campaign, dominated the stats page in 2022-23 with 64 goals and 153 points on the way to winning his third Hart Trophy as league MVP. Draisaitl, meanwhile, scored 52 times and was second behind his teammate with 128 points.
There's little doubt the pair will be at or near the top again this season if they stay healthy.
Those numbers, however, are not the focus.
"Cup or bust is a little dramatic," Draisaitl said. "But we're at that stage where we all want to win, we're ready to win, we're ready to put in (the work) and do whatever it takes.
"Definitely at that stage."
BROWN IN TOWN
The Oilers' only headline-grabbing addition this summer was the signing of Connor Brown.
Draisaitl said the gritty winger is eager to get going after signing a one-year contract in free agency following a lost season that saw him play just four games with the Washington Capitals before tearing his knee.
"Brownie's gonna be great," Draisaitl said. "We have to give him a little bit of time. We can't expect him to come out of the gates flying. That would be unfair to him.
“He's going to be really good for us."
McDavid, who played junior with the 29-year-old in the Ontario Hockey League, agreed with Draisaitl’s take that Brown offers a lot of the same characteristics as fellow Oilers forward Zach Hyman.
"Very good comparison," McDavid said. "Tenacious, relentless on the puck, works hard. I love what he brings to the dressing room. Sometimes just being blunt is great ... there's always a time.
"He's the right guy for the job."
HUGHES LOOKS AHEAD, SAYS PETEY PACKED ON POUNDS
Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes – Vancouver's new captain – is excited to see what the team looks like with a full training camp under head coach Rick Tochett.
"Guys are trying to evolve inside the group," said the 23-year-old. "A couple guys are frustrated with how the last year went and want to have a great season, and have something to prove."
The Canucks should also benefit from a healthy Thatcher Demko after the goaltender missed significant time in 2022-23 due to injury.
Hughes was also asked about star centre Elias Pettersson, who has yet to commit to the franchise long-term and can become a restricted free agent July 1.
"I know how Petey is," Hughes said. "He's so focused on the season. He had an incredible summer and gained four, five, six, seven pounds of muscle. He's got two feet in and he's ready to have a great year. When the time comes at the end of the season, that'll be up to him to discuss (his contract).
"You guys all know how I feel about Petey."
CAUFIELD ON SUZUKI
Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield and his teammates are under constant scrutiny in one of the league's most intense media markets – in two languages.
The sniper said the way centre Nick Suzuki handled his first season as captain of the Original Six franchise was impressive.
"Not a job for most," Caufield said. "That's what makes it so special."
ROBERTSON RARING TO GO
Dallas Stars forward Jason Robertson is looking to build on a 109-point campaign.
His younger brother – for starters – is looking to stay healthy.
Nick Robertson, 22, was limited to 15 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season before he suffered a shoulder injury.
Big brother said this week the winger is ready to go.
"Nick's great, he's all healthy," Jason Robertson said. "Probably in the best shape he's ever been. He's had that much time off. He's ready to roll."
The older Robertson added it's been difficult seeing his sibling's injury troubles, which have limited him to just 31 regular-season NHL games.
"Devastating," said the 24-year-old. "You think every year is gonna be his year, and then unfortunately, something goes wrong.
"But he's a dog out there. He wants to work, he wants to play hard. That's his game. Just gotta keep sticking with it."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 15, 2023.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press