'The stakes are a little bit higher': Oilers playoff rookies ready despite lack of experience

'The stakes are a little bit higher': Oilers playoff rookies ready despite lack of experience

On paper, this series seems like it should be an easy one to predict. 

The San Jose Sharks are a team with a lot of playoff experience — they've only missed the playoffs once since both clubs met in the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs, when the Oilers went on their fairytale run.  

The Oilers never made it back, until now.

The team's lineup is dotted with players who will be stepping on the ice for their first game of playoff hockey on Wednesday — Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Oscar Klefbom, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent Hopkins.

But there are many who have been there before. Benoit Pouliot, goalie Cam Talbot, forwards Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu, Patrick Maroon, Matt Hendricks, and David Desharnais have all seen the playoffs. 

On the blue line, Kris Russell, Andrej Sekera, Eric Gryba, and Adam Larsson have a combined 59 games worth of experience.   

'A lot more at stake'

Milan Lucic has played 101 playoff games and has a Stanley Cup ring to show for it. Along with Oilers General Manager Peter Chiarelli, he was part of the 2011 Stanley Cup-winning Boston Bruins.

His advice for those who haven't been there is simple.

"Just get yourself into the game the best way you can, " Lucic said.

"Obviously things get ramped up a bit with a lot more at stake here, but it's a lot of fun and I've always looked forward to this time of year."

What makes the playoffs special for Lucic this time around is getting a chance to experience the post season with his teammate, Connor McDavid.

While McDavid isn't sure what to expect come puck drop on Wednesday, Lucic is confident the league's top scorer will take his game to another level.

"You take a look at the guys around the room and I think he's as (excited), if not more excited, than anyone to get it going and make his debut in the playoffs," he said.

"I'm excited to be by his side and take this journey with him.

'I don't think there's a lot of fear'

Many hockey fans are expecting to see McDavid's elite game take a giant leap to the next level.  

His coach, Todd McLellan, was also behind the bench during the World Cup finals last fall. He says even though some of the core players on his team have yet to experience a playoff game, it doesn't mean they haven't performed under playoff-type pressure before. 

"I don't think there's a lot of fear in young players," McLellan said, referring to the success his team of young guns on his team at the World Cup of Hockey, which included some of the best players under the age of 24 from across North America.

"When you look at the team, the really dominant guys were perhaps under 20, you know 21, 20, 19. Young players don't have a lot of fear. It doesn't matter what team you're on, or what situation, they come and play and I just think that's just the way the game is going, it's the way they've been brought up and we'll expect that from our young players."

McDavid doesn't think the lack of playoff experience will be a hindrance.

"I think there's a lot of teams in the same boat as us. Obviously these guys aren't one of them, they were in the finals last year, basically the same team," McDavid said about the Sharks.

"They have that experience. But at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter. It's still hockey, it's still the game we've played all year. Obviously the stakes are a little bit higher."

A long time coming

Since he broke into the league back in 2010, it's been the same routine for Jordan Eberle every spring: dust off the golf clubs, and get ready to watch everyone else prepare for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

For the first time in his career, and after 507 regular season NHL games, Eberle will suit up for his first playoff game on Wednesday. He's seen and heard about the team's famous run in 2006 and can't wait to experience it for himself.

"Of course I've thought about it," he said.

"You play hockey to make the post season, to play for the cup. And when you haven't made it, that wears on you for sure. I know the type of game it's going to be, the type of game San Jose's going to play. We just have to be ready, and I think we are."

His linemate, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, is in a similar situation. After 395 games, the 2011 first overall draft pick is eager to finally put the post season on his resume. 

"It's exciting and it's a whole new level. So I'm not going to tip-toe my way into it at all. I'm just going to get in there and be flying right from the get-go," Nugent-Hopkins said. 

"I know there's a whole new level to these fans' loudness. We feed on it, but we've still got to give them a reason to be loud and cheer us on."

The first playoff game starts at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Rogers Place.