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'Two driven athletes': Oilers' GM salutes offseason work of McDavid, Draisaitl as training camp opens

Neither of the Edmonton Oilers' best players took to the podium Wednesday as training camp opened, but the team's general manager is convinced their actions say it all.

After a "devastating" second-round loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in May, captain Connor McDavid summoned his teammates to start skating in the Alberta capital two weeks before the official start of camp.

He and Leon Draisaitl have been preparing for months, their GM said.

"Leon bought a house in Toronto so he can be close to Connor [and] they can work out all summer," Ken Holland told reporters at Rogers Place.

"I'm laying a picture of two driven athletes that are in the primes of their career and drive themselves individually, and they drive the team. We're fortunate to have them."

The Oilers have 57 players – six goalies, 19 defencemen, 32 forwards – on their training camp roster, although Holland said 18 or 19 of 21 roster spots are already claimed.

Wednesday was for medicals, fitness testing and media availabilities. The players will hit the ice on Thursday, when McDavid and Draisaitl are expected to speak to reporters.

Defenceman Mattias Ekholm will not be on the ice for at least the first few days as he recovers from a minor hip flexor injury.

NHL veterans Sam Gagner, Brandon Sutter and Adam Erne are all in camp on professional tryouts. Holland suggested if they perform better than younger players, they'll make the team.

"We're trying to win. We're in this window of trying to win. We're trying to put the best team on the ice," he said.

"We're not going to put somebody on the ice because they have potential. The potential has to go to the American Hockey League."

Sutter, 34, has 770 NHL games on his resume, but because of injuries, he hasn't played since 2021. Holland recalled the conversation he had with Sutter when the camp invite was agreed upon.

"You don't really know where your game is at. We don't really know where your game is at," he told the New York-born centre with Alberta roots.

"But if you're anywhere close to where you were when you were at 28 or 29, you're exactly what we need. You're a right-shot centreman, you can win draws, [you're] defensive minded, [you're] a big guy. He can pitch in with some offence."

Holland was asked what he expects out of young players like Dylan Holloway and Philip Broberg, who are trying to establish themselves as NHL regulars.

The GM said Holloway will likely be a bottom-six forward on the Oilers this year, while Broberg will get a lot of playing time in the preseason with Ekholm injured. What happens after that is up to them.

"Things change over the course of 82 games. You need lots of depth. Lots of these players are going to get lots of opportunity, and then it's up to them to take advantage of the opportunity," Holland said.

He said there are three or four other young players on the cusp on grabbing an NHL spot but didn't specify names.

In net, the Oilers return with sophomore Stuart Skinner and veteran Jack Campbell.

After struggling in his first year with the team, Campbell said he feels more comfortable. He refused to say, however, if his goal is to grab the #1 job back from Skinner.

"I think the team is in pretty good hands when both of us are going. My focus is on making sure I'm ready and I know he's doing the same, and the coach will put us in whenever he wants," Campbell said.

"My standard for myself is so much higher than [last season]…My focus is on getting back to where I know I can be at, even elevating that from what I've done in the past. Just really excited for the opportunity to be able to write a new script this year."

Holland suggested he's confident in his tandem and a better season from Campbell, who finished with a record of 21-9-4 despite recording the worst save percentage of his career.

"Obviously, we'd like him to be a little more consistent. When he was playing at a high level, he played at a high level and we won," the GM said.

"I'm hoping that Jack is going to come in and play his best hockey, and we are going to have a good one-two-punch in net."

Holland's contract is up at the end of the season, so it's not clear how long the 67-year-old will be running the team.

He said he's "thrilled to be here," "wants to win" and has "a lot of juice."

"I want to win a Stanley Cup," Holland said. "I'll worry about me at the end of the year."

The Oilers' preseason starts Sunday against the Winnipeg Jets. The regular season starts Oct. 11 in Vancouver. Top Stories

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