Chris Johnston on McDavid: ‘He’s a special player who should be held to special standards’

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Photo Credit: Erich Schlegel/USA TODAY Sports

From dampened tracksuits to potentially disastrous predatory offer sheets that failed to account for a pretty important CBA article, Sportsnet reporter Chris Johnston has broken all kinds of colourful, interesting, and controversial stories in his career. 

This month Johnston has got a new sort of challenge though: tour the country and host four live hockey-talk shows in four different cities in four nights. It’s called Puck Talks Live and it’s coming to Edmonton! The event will take place at your favourite watering hole (the Pint on Whyte Ave., duh) on Thursday, Sept. 17 and you can buy tickets here. Jason Gregor will be there. Struds will too. Wanye won’t be (or at least, not officially). 

Anyway we caught up with Chris to talk about the coming of Connor McDavid, and the Puck Talks Live event.

OilersNation: Hey Chris, so what do you think are reasonable expectations for Connor McDavid in his rookie season with the Edmonton Oilers?

Chris Johnston: We’ve come across a funny barrier here when we talk about ‘realistic’. I mean, obviously he’s a very young man and he’s just coming into the league and he’ll have to adapt to things, but based on what we saw out of his junior career and how he compares with players like Sidney Crosby coming into the league, I certainly would expect that he can be a point per game player this season. And I would think that’s reasonable.

It may be tough for people to wrap their minds around that because I do acknowledge that there’s a learning curve there. But he’s a special player who should be held to special standards. That’s not to say that he’ll be a failure if he doesn’t get that many, but I think an 80 point season (or above) should be what he’s targeting and I think it’s very possible based on how his career has trended to this point.

ON: In terms of what you’ve seen of McDavid and how you think he’ll stack up in the pros? How do you think his speed will stack up versus the likes of Andrew Cogliano or Matt Duchene, and do you think he’ll be limited at all by a lack of speed or size?

CJ: The physicality is something he’ll have to adapt to although I think his speed and vision will allow him to avoid some of the contact that players without his skill set have to endure. He’s going to be one of the fastest players in the league, I have no doubt about that.

We already saw it in junior, it was sort of a men against boys kind of thing. When you watched him play there it was amazing how many teams just sort of backed up and let him wind up with that speed and really show how far above his competition he was there. I think that’ll be his biggest asset jumping into the NHL, it’s clear that he’s already performing at that level speed-wise.

There’s nothing about his skillset or the way he’s played that makes me think he won’t be an impact player in the NHL next season.

ON: Chris, what do you like about the Puck Talks format?

CJ: The best thing about it is that you never really know what’s going to happen. You don’t know what the questions will be, and obviously we involve the audience a lot and that’s made for some funny moments in the ones I’ve been part of so far.

To me what it does is that, pretty much everyone who is a serious hockey fan or who is involved in the industry in some way (whether it’s media or players or whatever) – we all have to deal with Twitter. Twitter has a lot of benefits but some of it is a little bit cynical, even hateful, whereas I find by actually getting together and having these events, you strip away some of that.

You have opportunities for actual discussion from people who come from different backgrounds – whether you get the pro-analytics crowd, or some more traditional reporters, or some former players as part of the panels. To me it allows for more free discussion about hockey. It’s a really authentic experience. It has kind of taken on a life of its own with the ones we’ve done in Toronto and now we’re taking it across the country.

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ON: How did you get roped into accompanying Puck Talks on its first cross-Canada tour?

CJ: I guess I’m the first loser or something!

I’m not sure what happened there, actually. I did the second Puck Talks show that they did, and then I did the third and the fourth. It seemed to work well, and I got to meet the owner Kevin Kennedy. I guess he liked what I brought to the format, and he asked if I’d do it and I said yes. That was before I realized it was going on on four nights in four cities, kind of like a touring rock band.

Now that we’re getting close to it I’m getting pretty excited.

ON: What are you most looking forward to about the trip?

CJ: Being yelled at by different people in different cities!

What’s perfect about it to me is that it falls on the first week that training camp opens in each city. I think that for a lot of us we’re just getting beyond the summer cobwebs, but the excitement is going to be back in each of those markets. To be in Edmonton the day that the Oilers break camp with Connor McDavid, I think that there will be an energy in that show in particular. But everywhere we’re going, people will be naturally excited about what’s going on with their hockey team and it’s an opportunity to exchange ideas that evening, and drink some beers together, and celebrate our sport.

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ON: What’s your favourite puck talks moment so far?

CJ: My favourite moment is probably Ken Campbell losing his mind in the last show. Ken might have had a few adult beverages before taking the stage, I’m not sure. He actually made some good points, but he made them quite passionately, including one point after which he dropped the mic as if he were some rapper who had made his point sufficiently or something.

That to me is what the whole thing is about. It’s about people who are excited about this thing and there’s room for some healthy debate about various topics, and you really don’t know, even when you put panels together, what side of people’s personality is going to come out when you put them on stage.

That was something that makes me chuckle months later, and at the time it was downright hilarious.

Chris and Puck Talks roll into Edmonton on Thursday, Sept. 17. Get your tickets here!

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  • Train#97

    There ain’t no louder building than the house of ninety-nine
    Got the echoes of the dynasty a burnin’ in their minds
    You better cheer ’em on, they’re the roughest necks around
    Cuz it’s hockey night in Edmonton, the Oil’s back in town, yeah!

    Me and the wife are living in Toronto as of this year, playin Corb and rockin jerseys all season long. What a year to be a fan, GO OIL!!!!

  • Joy S. Lee

    McDavid is used to playing against tougher competition but in his first season he needs to build confidence. There will be tremendous pressure on him to carry the Oil out of the darkness and if he is not successful then that may rattle him. I think 65-70 points this season will be a success as goals are harder to come by now than when Crosby scored 12 pts in his rookie year.

    The best news is, at 70 pts, he will be far better than Boyd Gordon at 13 pts last year which will dramatically push up Hall’s and Yakupov’s numbers (if they are his wingers) and take pressure off of the Hopkins line so I expect their numbers will also improve. If the D improves the goals against, we could be playoff bound!

    Calgary made it with 241/216 GF/GA and the Oil were 198/283. With greater puck possession I can see the Oil bridging the GF gap and at least a portion of the GA gap to at least put them in the running near the end of the season.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    I feel as if I am stuck in a time warp were the season never starts and all we do is talk talk talk. Where is Dr. Emmett Brown when you need him.

  • Kevwan

    Hey we can talk about the Bears – Rookies game from the night before.

    What a great season to look forward to. Connor McDavid is going to be a joy to behold. The effect should bring the Oilers up a notch or two.

    This off season is like the pre amble to a drag race where the burn out is all smoke and noise and then the speed goes on display when the money is on the line.

    The roster is looking as solid as possible and the few question marks will be up arrows if we are lucky on D and in goal. There are a lot of rookies with something to prove (and pretty good skills) and a lot of “prove it” contracts on their last year.

  • Who is Chris, and why does he opinion matter more than any other Chris’?

    Unless you have played, coached and succeeded in hockey on many levels, you are not a hockey expert. Watching it for years and forming opinion does not make you an expert. If that is the case, then, this comment section is 90% experts.

    As soon as I read the word ‘SMART’ on the flyer, I came to a media expert opinion of it being CORNY.

  • Reg Dunlop

    Edmontonians should feel so honored to be acknowledged by media from the centre of the universe. How kind of them to travel out here in the hinterlands. MCDAVID EFFECT.

    Last time I was in TO, a conversation with a local went like this: ‘Hey Reg, you’re from Edmonton? Isn’t that out by Guelph? Say, do you know Ken Smith? That’s where he lives.’ Friendly but blissfully ignorant.

  • justDOit

    McDavid is the new breed of up and comers with a resume far above the rest over last 5 years . Unlike Hall and many before this new breed they are the ones with personnel trainers since 13 years of age group . They do not have Spring off as most have had including Hall . They are dedicated 365 days a year to training basically to keep ahead of everyone else coming up with same regime last 5 years . Just look at the skill , speed and physicality upgrade in junior hockey in those 5 years . Pretty impressive ! One would have thought it would be almost impossible to repeat as Stanley Cup Champs , but it has been made easier , as they , like the new emerging breed of juniors are playing and conditioning longer than those other teams that are having much more time off . The new breed are physical fitness marvels combined with many skills , speed and size at an unprecedented escalating rate

  • justDOit

    McDavid is the new breed of up and comers with a resume far above the rest over last 5 years . Unlike Hall and many before this new breed they are the ones with personnel trainers since 13 years of age group . They do not have Spring off as most have had including Hall . They are dedicated 365 days a year to training basically to keep ahead of everyone else coming up with same regime last 5 years . Just look at the skill , speed and physicality upgrade in junior hockey in those 5 years . Pretty impressive ! One would have thought it would be almost impossible to repeat as Stanley Cup Champs , but it has been made easier , as they , like the new emerging breed of juniors are playing and conditioning longer than those other teams that are having much more time off . The new breed are physical fitness marvels combined with many skills , speed and size at an unprecedented escalating rate

  • Reg Dunlop

    It’s ironic that Chris Johnston, who any westerner who reads Sportsnet knows is a special sort of writer who appears to be held to no standards at all, should say that being a special hockey player means McDavid should be held to a higher standard than his peers.

    • justDOit

      Perhaps that true , but one has to wonder if McDavid reaches his seemingly high potential how rest of league may have to react to him – two way street that most have yet to acknowledge or contemplate . They had to do it with Gretzky right off the bat . He certainly has that wide gap amongst his junior peers like Gretzky did .

  • justDOit

    I think McDavid will have an excellent first year. But to project him at 80 points is hilarious. Only 5 players in the league topped 80 points last year: Benn, Tavares, Crosby, Voracek, Ovechkin.

    If McDavid can top 65 points in his rookie year, I think I would be absolutely thrilled.

  • Joy S. Lee

    @Hayak – @Randaman

    I’ve been roasted pretty good for predicting 100 points for the kid a while back. Unreasonably optimistic, or stupid and lots of thumbs down are what I heard back for the most part. Nice to see I’m not completely alone out here. And then, the news story about what Stamkos had to say being very similar to what I said before the Oilers drafted Connor. What did I say? I said McDavid would be the most dynamic and gifted player in the NHL in his first year. And that should equate to lots of points.

    What did Stamkos say? That he thought that Connor McDavid is ALREADY (that word is an important distinction) better than he is without playing a single NHL game. This is STAMKOS, folks. Who just finished playing some shinny with the Oilers’ new rising star a few weeks back, and made the claim after having done so.

    People are remarkably ignorant in their penchant to put limitations on whatever it is that they are looking at. Granted, 100 is a huge challenge, but the kid is about to be a huge star, and he’s going to be surrounded with talent, which he is going to in turn enhance. It’s nice to see that at least a few of us are clinging to our high expectations in the face of much fire-breathing and mockery. The kid is special, and he’s going to play like it.

  • Randaman

    Little History Lesson perhaps required in figuring out what McDavid seems capable of this year ; I’ll use two comparable first round draft choices and how they faired . Both I consider below McDavid entering NHL .

    NATHAN MacKinnon dropped only to 85% of his NHL scoring from last year of junior .

    M.Duchene dropped to only 70 % of his junior to NHL scoring .

    McDavid at only 70% would fall to 146.37 points in an 82 game schedule . 2.55 Times 70% = 146.37 . At only 50% it would still be 127.50 . At 30% would still be 76.5points . This kid seems prime to target Gretzky and his 137 points . If he matches MacKinnons 85% carryover then that figure would be 177.7 points . We are talking McDavid here , not no ordinary first year pick .