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Oilers face Canucks in opener with ‘one goal’ in mind

When the Edmonton Oilers open their season on the road against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night, they already will be thinking about how they want the campaign to end.

The goal is to achieve a level of play worthy of raising the Stanley Cup.

The Oilers appeared on their way to at least making the Stanley Cup Finals late last season. They ended the regular season on a nine-game winning streak but ran into an ever hotter and hungrier Vegas Golden Knights team in the Western Conference semifinals and were eliminated in six games.

“Obviously, there’s one goal here,” Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl said. “Whether that pans out that way, we’ll see. One thing is guaranteed. That we’re going to do everything in our power to achieve that goal and get to that point.”

The Oilers return two of the best offensive players in the NHL in Draisaitl and Connor McDavid, who finished second and first, respectively, in points last season.

McDavid, 26, led the way with a career-high 153 points (64 goals, 89 assists), which was the 15th-highest total in a single season in league history. Only two players have accumulated 160 points in a season: Wayne Gretzky (nine times) and Mario Lemieux (four times).

Draisaitl, who turns 28 on Oct. 27, scored a career-high 128 points (52 goals, 76 assists).

“I think we’re in a good spot,” McDavid said. “We’ve handled everything that’s been thrown our way here at camp. I feel like we’re starting to see things that we want to see out of our game.”

Edmonton likely will start the season with 11 forwards and eight defensemen because defenseman Markus Niemelainen is injured, but not seriously enough to be placed on long-term injured reserve.

Niemelainen also can’t be waived or sent down because he’s injured, and the Oilers don’t have enough salary-cap room to recall a player.

“Where we’re at with certain situations, it’s a necessary thing to happen,” Edmonton coach Jay Woodcroft said of playing short one forward. “We have a couple of healthy situations, and we want to make sure we give ourselves the most flexibility possible in order for us to field the best lineup on opening night.”

The Canucks also faced some tough roster decisions because of salary-cap constraints.

They assigned center Nils Aman to the AHL and waived winger Jack Studnicka.

Both players likely would have been in the lineup on Wednesday after producing strong training camps and playing well in the preseason games.

“It’s a cap thing and it’s over my paygrade,” Vancouver coach Rick Tocchet said. “That’s the thing that sucks. For us to carry six defensemen, we have to do this. (Aman) will be back. It’s just a matter of time. He’s definitely in our plans.”

The season opener will also be the first game as team captain for Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes, who was awarded the title on Sept. 11.

He takes over for forward Bo Horvat, who was traded to the New York Islanders on Jan. 30 in exchange for forwards Anthony Beauvillier and Aatu Raty.

Hughes produced a career-high 76 points (seven goals, 69 assists) in 78 games last season.

Vancouver is also expecting another big year from forward Elias Pettersson, who had a team-leading 102 points last season (39 goals, 63 assists) and is entering the final season of a three-year contract.

–Field Level Media

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