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.
- 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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