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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  • Big Cap

    It goes without saying I am a huge McDavid fan being an Oilers loyalist for years, so take the following comment with a grain of salt:

    McDavid is better than Crosby. Similar vision and hands but a step (or two) faster. It’s hard to believe he could actually exceed the hype and the projected point totals from this site and others, but I’ve seen it and I’m a believer. Not only in the goals and assists he does have, but he has been held off the scoresheet numerous times already thanks to huge saves, disallowed goals and teammates not capitalizing. What he is doing is no fluke or lucky run.

    Trash me all you want, I don’t care.

  • D

    Another great part about the Yakupov-McDavid-Pouliot line firing on all cylinders is that it takes a lot of pressure off of Hall, RNH and Eberle (when he returns).

  • freelancer

    It’s been fantastic to watch the kid play. I will be very interested to see how he handles the next big challenge; when teams start to adapt to him… if they can adapt to him.

    • Jordan88

      McDavid was pushed off the puck last night by a strong mobile defender. He then slipped away got the puck passed to pouliot and well we all know what happened.

      Teams have adapted to McDavid, the thing is McDavid can anticipate this and respond in ways no one expects. A great player can make a play around a defender and get scoring chance. A phenom can get checked, fool the defender into a false sense of security and generate a scoring chance. How many times has McDavid done this?

      so far about 12 times that I have seen and its only 11 games in his career.

  • Mooseroni

    To the Oilers credit over their first 10 games, they only had 2 games that they really dropped the ball in Dallas and Washington. (But the Oilers rallied back against Dallas when they were down a2-0)

    LA was a stolen game from us, and they rallied back 2-0 against Minnesota only to lose 4-3.

    It doesn’t feel like the same old same old this year.

    To see them come back down 3-0 to the 1st place Montreal Canadiens tells me this team has a no quit attitude. We’ve been lacking that for years.

    McDavid for Captain as early as next year.

  • 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.

  • Mooseroni

    Hall has taken a major leadership role this year, I’ve noticed he handles himself differently on and off the ice since the start of the season, and it’s paying in spades,

    I’m really hoping those two announcers the flames have will be eating a bit of crow tomorrow.

  • Buke

    McDavid’s offense is sick and jaw dropping, but what I was not expecting was the Datsyukian ability to remove the puck from the opposition and fantastic defensive play.

    #Beauty

    • brian_d

      Sure I’d trade Draisatl if it’s for a #1 dman…who wouldn’t. This team just needs that top dman to settle everything and this team will start climbing the hill…Draisalt + for Weber ALL DAY LONG!

      • Ready to Win

        nashville is not trading weber… people need to grasp that. At this point, i’m not touching the line up. They haven’t played one game with a full roster.

  • freelancer

    Gregor, when Eberle returns do you think Draisaitl will be sent back down? If Draisaitl can continue to produce do you think they might start Eberle on the third line with Lander, similar to when Hall came back from injury last season?

    • Jason Gregor

      Eberle is your best RW. He is the only player who has scored 30 goals. He was already practicing with Hall/RNH. McLellan has talked about how much they miss him. He won’t be on 3rd line.

      I could see Draisaitl going back to AHL and playing top minutes instead of playing on 3rd line. We shall see. It is a nice problem to have.

      • freelancer

        No arguments there. Was more a question on if they would put Eberle on a third line for a few games to get him back up to speed as opposed to a long term thing.

      • Oil4Brains

        I must agree with JG here. Draisaitl should play top minutes and AHL is a good fit. By xmas he could be on roster alongside Yaks and Nuge, while the 3rd will see Pouliot on LW.

        • Thumby

          I slightly disagree.

          For years now the Oilers have been doing the same thing expecting different results. While I agree Ebs is the best RW the team has, it’s only becase no one else has really been given a shot.

          Moreover, Draisaitl is completely unique on this team in terms of the skills and size he brings. He is not one dimensional, whereas I think Eberle is.

          For example, Eberle cannot win draws, Eberle cannot protect the puck, Eberle doesn’t really retrieve the puck that well, or back check, plus you already have Hall on that line.

          Any line with Draisaitl on it is going to be a little different considering Drais skills, as such I think that line can play better in more situations than the traditional Hall Nuge Ebs line. Plus, if that 3rd line is having a tough time scoring, who better to make 3 scoring lines than replacing your worst RW with your best?

          In short, it’s not about giving the good players the best minutes anymore, it’s about icing the best team, and I’m not sold Eberle on the top line over Drai does that.

          • Jason Gregor

            “For example, Eberle cannot win draws, Eberle cannot protect the puck, Eberle doesn’t really retrieve the puck that well, or back check, plus you already have Hall on that line.”

            So Eberle does nothing well except score goals. He just magically scores them consistently and is a 60-point player but he is terrible.

            And with Draisaitl scoring two goals he is now suddenly better. Okay. Gotcha.

          • Canoe Ride 27.1

            Had a feeling I was gonna get ripped for that. Definately not saying Eberle is crap and Draisaitl is the second coming.

            I’m just saying Edmonton has been a team up until now identified as having too many one dimensional small skilled forwards in their top six. Maybe that has been too much of a generalization, but I tend to somewhat agree it has caused issues these past few years with having success.

            Moreover, I don’t think the team under McLellan is one where your past accomplishments determine your spot on the roster. It seems to be about what is best for the team, not best for the player.

            So with all that in mind, MAYBE, Draisaitl is a better fit on that top line given his skill set. Emphasis on maybe. Pretty tough to tell after one game.

            I think if you read my whole post and not just pick a choice quote here and there, then put words in my mouth you’ll see I wasn’t so completely set in my opinion, just exploring the option and promoting a why or why not would one be better than the other.

            Question, were any of my observations about Eberle wrong? I really don’t think he is a player that wins face offs, back checks, breaks up cycles, retrieves pucks out of corners, and is able to protect the puck. At the very least he is not able to do those things as well as Draisaitl. Draisaitl just adds a DIFFERENT, not necessarily better, dynamic to the top line. What I want to know is which dynamic leads to more team success?

            I also do think Eberle could use some time trying to energize the third line. Nelson did it with Hall last year and for a while the team had 3 scoring lines. Isn’t 3 scoring lines better than 2? Isn’t that the goal?

  • Serious Gord

    Another thing about McDavids game is how he wins puck battles along the boards,almost magic like and then quickly makes a play. Amazing where his game could be one day.

    There is no room for passengers on his bus.

  • 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.

  • S cottV

    McDavid is the real deal for sure.

    Drai – I suspected that he did not take well to the Bakersfeild thing and that he may be somewhat sensitive.

    Easy to say that he should simply suck it up and take a demotion in stride and get on with it for the next opportunity yada yada yada..

    Some guys don’t work that way – though.

    He is the high skill, big body, big reach top 6 centerman / forward, that the Oilers will desperately need.

    He is good enough right now to contribute and with the right push (great job Hall), it could quickly become a huge contribution.

    Nurture this guy from above in the NHL – not from below in the AHL.

  • Serious Gord

    If Davidson can figure things out even though he has been thrown into the deep end far too early then that will be the best news for the team this fall.

  • S cottV

    It must be so fun to play with McDavid. Yak makes a simple clearing pass, McDavid gets the puck and gives Pouliot a breakaway pass. I’d be pretty excited to come to the rink if I was Yak.

    • S cottV

      Yak still needs to do more…..

      Playing with McDavid and having the skills he has…He should have more than 2 goals…. Hopefully he can get going in that department…. His last few assists have been gifted to him as being a member of that line.

      although a couple weeks ago…he was playing better.

        • clrsnldvc81

          hahaha… i was thinking the same thing…

          he’s got 10 pts… he’s making simple plays… he’s a PLUS player… 7 game point streak…

          yeah… he’s gotta be better…??? classic comment…

          I bet Cam should have 6 shutouts too…

      • 99CupsofCoffey

        Considering the fact last year he was being called a bust, he has turned it around fairly well. He has good chemistry with McDavid, and they’ve been on a points streak for a while. Could he be doing better? Yeah, but I think you can say that about anyone on the team.

        The scary thing is that McDavid and Yak haven’t even played ten games together. Imagine their play after half a season.

  • brian_d

    “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.”

    This. The things he does at speed are unbelievable.

    Also, the reason he and Hall never worked out is that they are both puck carriers, and that’s not a knock on either of them. The difference between Hall being with McDavid, and Yak being with McDavid is that Yak is fine with McDavid carrying the puck, so long as Yak gets to unleash the occasional bomb at the offensive end, off the stick of McDavid. Hall (and again, not a knock, just a comment on playing style) wouldn’t afford Yak that many opportunities.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • S cottV

    Hiller is hurt for Calgary… Flames had to recall Ramo….

    Oilers should have played dirty and claimed Ramo off waivers today… send him down after the game on Sunday… Leave the flames with Ortio and Roy lol for the game Saturday.

    But I guess we would have to send down Davidson to do so…and he probably would not clear waivers….

    I assume Calgary is gonna get trashed tonight against MTL as MTL is not going to go on a 3 game losing streak…

    Should make the Saturday game interesting….

    • Semi

      A team can’t claim a player being called up to the NHL. Waivers only apply to players being waived from the NHL.

      Ramo cleared waivers when he was sent down. He would need to play a number of NHL games (10?) or be up on the NHL roster for 30 days before he’d be waiver eligible again.

  • db7db7db7

    I’m still a little in disbelief the Oilers got McDavid. Like it doesn’t feel real. And it’s not because of all the first round picks or anything like that, but he’s just so good I really do feel a bit guilty as a fan. It’s pretty clear this kid is going to be a superstar for ever.

    No offense to other teams, but as guilty as I feel, I think it would have felt like a waste seeing him in Pheonix or on the Leafs. I’m glad he’s in a market like Edmonton. Hockey mad, but still has a bit of humility about its team.

    As for Calgary tomorrow, should be another good show. I think the team is learning to play like the need to win rather than expect to win. Hopefully the top two lines can keep rolling like they have been, and the rest of the team will take a cue.

    Nurse, McDavid, Hall, Nuge, Yak, and Draisaitl are leading the way. Great day to be an Oiler fan.

  • Buke

    I really don’t like hearing Draisaitl has confidence issues. The Edmonton fan base can be very hard on individual players and I could see things getting out of hand quickly if he has a few bad games. Hopefully he can overcome those issues and become the big skill player we so desperately need in our top 6!

    Also, McDavid is unreal!

    • brian_d

      There’s no pressure on him though. He plays good, he plays bad, no one has the team riding on the success of Draisaitl.

      He’ll be fine. Especially with Eberle coming back, he could go down to a line that fans already don’t expect much from.