McDavid: Exceeding Expectations

Hope

Connor McDavid’s arrival to the NHL had been talked about for years, but despite all the hype, anticipation and excitement his play through the first 11 games has managed to exceed most people’s expectations.

He is that good, and he’s only going to get better.

It’s remarkable when you sit back and analyze how difficult it is to play in today’s NHL, never mind produce points, yet McDavid has made the transition from junior to the pros look as effortless as his skating stride.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised considering he was deemed a generational player, but it is astonishing that at 18 years of age he might already be the most dangerous skater in the NHL. Until McDavid arrived, I always felt Mike Modano was the best skater to watch accelerate through the neutral zone, but McDavid might be quicker. The scary part is not only does he skate fast, he often does it with the puck on his stick.

Very few NHLers, past or present, have matched McDavid’s ability to make plays at that speed.

It took him a few games to get comfortable. He only had one point in his first four games, but even without lighting up the scoreboard his talent was obvious. It took him four games to adjust to the speed, pace and size of the NHL and two weeks ago in Calgary he had his break out game.

He scored twice, added an assist and pressured the Flames defence every time he was on the ice. He has eleven points in his last seven games and sits 6th in NHL scoring.

He’s only eighteen years young and eleven games into his NHL career and he’s already one of the best players. It borders on insane how quickly he has been able to adjust.

The scary thing for the opposition, but exciting for Oilers fans, is he is still learning and adjusting to NHL D-men and goaltenders.

One part of me says we shouldn’t expect him to score at a 1.09 point-per-game for the rest of the season, but another part says he look capable of scoring at an even higher rate. Every game he makes four or five plays that lift you out of your seat.

His speed is breathtaking.

His acceleration looks effortless.

His edge work coming out of turns is better than anyone I’ve seen.

His anticipation and vision are equal to a very select few NHL superstars.

Production is important of course, but McDavid’s contributions don’t revolve solely around points. He makes players around him better. Nail Yakupov has become a very good complementary player. Yakupov is now making smart, simple plays and he’s been rewarded by picking up four assists from his defensive side of centre.

Linemate Benoit Pouliot commented, “He forces you to stay focused all the time. He can make a play anywhere on the ice.”

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden once said, “A player who makes a team great is more valuable than a great player,” and in McDavid’s case he is both great and looks to be the catalyst in making this team great in the future.

No player will ever dominate the game offensively like Wayne Gretzky did in the 1980s. The game has changed too much and the focus and improvement in goaltending and defence will make it impossible to match his offensive totals, but McDavid’s drive and determination is what will make him one of the greats of his generation.

In Mark Spector’s excellent book, The Battle of Alberta (I highly recommend reading it), Gretzky talked about leadership.

“I always knew the players were looking at me. I knew I had to be as hardworking in practice as anybody, and my preparation for a game or playoff series had to be as sincere, as strong as each and every guy on the team.

“So there were no shortcuts with our team. The one thing we always had which was overshadowed: we were a good talented team, but it was a group that was extremely dedicated to becoming a successful, unselfish team. I always felt it was most important that the captain show the team that winning was most important, and that being unselfish was the key to the success of any group. That was the key to being the captain of that team.”

Last night, McDavid led the comeback in the third period. He was relentless on the puck. He made important plays on both the Pouliot and Brandon Davidson goals, and then Taylor Hall’s line scored the game winning goal. A leader can’t win by himself. He needs support, and outside of his excellent offensive totals, McDavid is showing  a consistency in his game that is necessary to win.

It is rubbing off on his teammates and the future of the Oilers has never looked better. They will still have some tough games, and a few losing streaks, but McDavid’s overall play has exceeded expectations, which is amazing considering how high they were when the season began.

PARTING SHOTS…

Shots

  • The Oilers have two bonafide scoring lines and when Jordan Eberle returns their offense should only get better.
  • Todd McLellan shared an interesting tidbit after the game when he was asked about Leon Draisaitl. “He started slow. Hallsy pulled him aside and said, ‘Let’s go. Relax. You are a good player.’ Then I felt he was more involved.”

    Good for Hall for pulling the kid aside and pumping him up. Shawn Horcoff did the same thing to Hall and Eberle when they were rookies. Last season a few players told me they felt Draisaitl’s biggest obstacle would be his own self-belief. When he was struggling offensively, he apologized to teammates for having to play with him. Confidence is a strange beast in sports and in life, and when you don’t have it it is difficult to perform. Last night should give Draisaitl a huge boost. He only scored two goals in 37 games last year, but he potted two last night including the game winner.

  • Former Oilers coach Todd Nelson once told me Davidson had the hardest shot on the team, but he didn’t use his shot enough. He ripped a goal past Carey Price last night and showed us what Nelson was referring to. Davidson almost scored on his next shift when he released another howitzer, but Price made a great save. “I’m realizing I need to shoot more. The guys have been on me for years to shoot, and I guess they were right,” Davidson said with a smile after the game. I wonder if those who ripped him in the comment sections in my “next 10” article have softened their stance? He played another solid game.
  • The Oilers have a wonderful opportunity to defeat the Flames for a second consecutive game tomorrow night. Once again the Oilers will be rested while Calgary will be playing on back-to-back nights; they host Montreal tonight. Edmonton needs to take advantage of a favourable schedule and beat their provincial rivals. It should be an outstanding atmosphere at Rexall tomorrow.

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  • 99CupsofCoffey

    There’s not much reason to trade one of our wonderkids for a top line D man. Buff is a free agent next year, he is the guy Chi should target hard.

    Think about how punishing that defence would be.

    Nurse – Buff

    Klefbom – Sekera

    Reinheart – Schultz / Gryaba / Fayne / Ference.

    It makes Schultz and Fayne Tradable, Gryba and Davidson could fight it out for bottom pair. Not to mention Laleggia is looking well.

    It’s just a big bodied, two way playing, and very mobile defence.

      • Oilers-Entourage

        Can you imagine a top pair of Nurse and Bufyglin?

        That would be the scariest D by far to face off against.

        Combine that with the Oiler’s top six, and teams would just hate coming to Edmonton. Like the mindset coming in would be: “Great, up front I have to worry about containing Hall, Nuge, Ebs, Pouliot, Yak, McDavid, and maybe Draisaitl. Then after that I have to go through two of the biggest, meanest, quickest, skilled SOB’s in the league. I’m pumped for tonight.”

        Need some serious value contracts for that work, but it could be epic.

  • tdese

    while were in the praising mood… did anybody notice who McDavid made look silly when getting the puck out to Pouliot? …. Subban! McD is making nhl allstar defensemen look like children. Can’t wait for this kid to get some old man strength in him, he will be untouchable

      • Noticed that earlier in the game . He tried splitting Markov and Subban, did not work. You could see the wheels turning, that didn’t work, so I wont do that again, I will use a different attack, See you in a couple of shifts. This is what I hope rubs off on some off the others. Wont mention any names , but the toe drags that two of our players love, that hasn’t worked since their first year and other teams adjusted to it, just stop doing it and adjust, Easier said than done.

  • clrsnldvc81

    The biggest thing i appreciate with McDavid is he always seems to find a way to get or keep the puck… The Davidson goal he was checked by 2 MTL defenders and he fell to the ice… Managed to still get the puck in the corner and it led to the goal.

    Then he ups that by fighting off PK Subban (norris trophy winner hello?) and chips the puck ever so gently into the open space for Benoit to bury it…

    every game there is that “H*LY S**T did he just pull that off”

    but throughout the game he makes little plays that just don’t usually happen on an 18 year old’s stick… those are the plays that we will appreciate more and more Oilersnation…

  • It was interesting to see the Oilers actually recognize McDavids explosive speed and flip that puck into open ice and let him fly after it on that shorthanded play.

    Anyone other than PK gets left in the dust on that one… the Oilers need to use that play more as it will soften the oppositions fearlessness in holding the offensive blue line.

  • Blood Orange

    It is scary to think where the Oilers would be this year without McDavid.

    His skill has arguably won, or helped win 3 of the 4 wins this year.

    Bring on Calgary tomorrow night!

  • freelancer

    McDavid in the top half dozen in scoring so soon? He’s earned it. Hall and Nuge really stepped it up nicely to grab a W in reg too.

    Our best D are our youngest D. That is a good trend.

    I hope Nilsson gets the start and shuts down the Flames. They do not look so hot on the scoresheet so far:) Bon Chance les Habitant.

  • I’ve been a huge fan of this team since the beginning of the WHA. But since the 90’s I haven’t felt optimistic. I dreamed of great things but just didn’t feel it.
    Lets turn that around today… This team is going somewhere. The mood is changing on the team. I believe they feel they can win and last night they proved it.
    McD is a complete team changer, the kid is beyond good. 18 yrs old and 11 games in and look what’s happening. Freaking incredible. Drai, Nurse, the other young ones have all stepped up and look really good in their development. A few tweaks up front, keep working on improving the D and only the players will at be fault if this doesn’t go anywhere in the next few years.
    The look of the team on the ice and the effort most nights deserves a huge thanks to Maclellan as well.
    I don’t expect playoffs or a cup this year, but I feel like I have something real to cheer for again with this team.
    Can’t wait until tomorrow night and see Calgary get pasted.

  • Sean17

    Love the top end speed of McDavid with the puck! We’ve all seen lots of speed demons who cannot do it with the puck – Marchant, Chimera, Cogliano. Puts McDavid in with the likes of Bure, Coffey, Modano, Lafleur. Any other suggestions?

    • Leaking5w-30

      He skates like I did…. Back when EA sports let you build players with no limit on rankings.

      Speed 100
      Acceleration 100
      Stick handling 100
      Agility 100

      Now if we could just put him on all four lines…

  • Spoils

    It is so so so huge that Yak is working with McD. It really allows the other pieces to go to their best possible places:

    Hall with Nuge and Ebs (magic obviously).

    And, Purcell has historically been better with more skilled linemates. I have a feeling Purcell-Lander-Draisaitl could play well.

    That leaves us with what feels like a solid 4th line with Letestu Korpikoski and Hendricks…

    It also leaves Sleppy, Iiro, and Klink out. not to mention Miller, Pitlick etc. etc.

    Now if only the D…

  • Leaking5w-30

    Last night clinched it for me, I ordered my #97 road white jersey today and hope to wear it to the Hawks–Oilers game at the United Center next Sunday. 😀

  • Canoe Ride 27.1

    Has anyone mentioned that on top of all the skills McDavid brings, the fact that he HATES to lose. Always has since childhood. A lot of pro athletes have this, but he REALLY has it.

    Yet another effect of the McDavid factor.

  • TKB2677

    I think the biggest piece of evidence of how good of a player is now and will be moving forward is how he has turned Yakupov into a good player. Yakupov unfortunately is a complimentary player which is something you don’t really want when you draft a guy #1 overall but holy cow, what a turn around.

    It’s early but Yakupov looks like an actually legit, good offensive player and you can say that’s almost 100% on McDavid. 11 games in and Yakupov is almost 1/3 of the way to his career high and he’s a plus player.

  • AussieOil

    Can you imagine when McDavid has one of those games where everything clicks for him. He has obviously been great so far but imagine the game when his Grade A setups get burried (read Letestu) and the goalies arent making any spectacular saves on him.

    Will be at least a 5 point night – excited to see and amazing that he clearly has that ge still to come.

  • That comment about Drai apologizing to his linemates makes me so sad. Poor kid. I think sometimes we as fans forget that these are just people. I have high hopes for this kid and want him to have a long and successful NHL career.

  • TRAIN#97

    Pisses me off people saying Hall looks like he didn’t care after he has scored . What a bunch of crap.
    Draisaitl scored last night and Hall was fist pumping with both arms.
    People have nothing better to do than cause sh$t.

  • Oilersphan

    I’ve read a few comments from people saying Yak is only doing well because of McDavid. However, his defensive side has made some improvements too. The coach has been trusting him out there in the final couple minutes when the oilers have needed to hold on to a lead.

    He does still have a number of things to improve on, but he is always giving his damnedest out there!