June 17, 2024

Oilers legend Messier gives the club credit for turning things around after a terrible NHL season start.

Mark Messier owns six Stanley Cup rings.

He’s also been on teams where the next victory feels like it might never arrive.

That’s exactly where the Edmonton Oilers were at a month into the NHL season.

The club sat 2-9-1 through 12 games — 31st in the overall standings and already eight points out of the Western Conference’s second wild-card spot.

Three months later, Edmonton has completely flipped the script.

Despite having a 16-game win streak — one short of the league record — snapped Tuesday by the Vegas Golden Knights, the Oilers are no longer a team that can’t defend, can’t get a save, and has difficulty completing consecutive passes.

They are instead firmly back in the contender conversation.

“Connor McDavid is driving that bus,” Messier said of Edmonton’s superstar captain. “He has not shrunk under this focus, under this spotlight. He might have even become more emboldened, and his leadership has been tested in many different ways.

Messier, who won five Cups with the Oilers and another with the New York Rangers, has been a panellist on ESPN’s NHL broadcasts since 2021.

The Oilers, meanwhile, are back in a playoff spot — the team fired head coach Jay Woodcroft in November and replaced him with Kris Knoblauch — after their surge up the standings.

Messier said the last three months for McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the rest of the group should give them confidence about the process.

Now it’s about replicating that over and over into June.

“You have to have an unwavering belief in yourself,” said Messier, a Hall of Fame centre widely viewed as hockey’s greatest leader during his 25-season NHL career. “You have to have an unwavering belief in the culture that you’re creating on the team, you have to have an unwavering belief in the coach. And then you have to have an unwavering belief in the players around you.

“Anything less than that will probably diminish your chances.”

Messier said the roller-coaster that Edmonton, which made the 2022 Western Conference final and bowed out in last spring’s second round, has already experienced this season should help.

“Ebbs and flows and ups and downs, both emotionally and physically,” said the 15-time all-star. “You will be punched in the face during the playoffs. If you haven’t experienced adversity at some point that’s a tough time to be tested.

“They’ve definitely got themselves back in the conversation.”

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