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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

    I mentioned to my girlfriend last night as we were watching the game that most NHL players can skate into the zone with the puck, but it’s like they’re herding it.

    McDavid skates into the zone with that thing GLUED to his stick.

    Huge difference.

  • Canoe Ride 27.1

    Best skaters I have ever seen, top 5. Coffey, McDavid, Orr, Modano, Gartner. Coffey was the smoothest by alot, just effortless and fluid.
    McDavid is best combination of edge work, accelleration, lateral mobility I have never. Never seen a player accelerate from 2 strides like that. He makes Taylor Hall look slow. Orr was so impossible to stop cause his lateral movement was so top drawer, just stunning to watch him play. In my opinion the only defenceman who skated better was Paul because Oor skated half his career on one knee. Modano was the best skater through the neutral zone on a rush, but I actually think McDavid is more terrifying cause crazy as it sounds his accelleration is better. Gartner was scary fast. Remember him winning NHL fastest skater well into his mid thirties. Loved him in NHL 94′.

    Just miss the cut, Bure, Lemieux, The Rocket, Fedorov, Kharlamov, and I am sure a few other Communist Red Army Russians.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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…

  • 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. 😀

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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…

  • brian_d

    I would like to keep Draisaitl on the RHN line for a while longer. It could be confidence builder for Leon. Also I would like to try Eberle with McDavid. McDavid needs a Kurri type complimentary player. Yak on the third line.

  • 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…

  • 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.

  • brian_d

    Be curious to see how the lines are handled when 14 returns. With Lander struggling and the McDavid line rolling I wonder if a Draisaitl-Eberle-Lander line combo with Leon in the middle might be worth trying. This of course assumes we can get production from RW on the Hall-RNH line. Like to see Iiro get a legitimate shot there and if it works the mythical, much talked about, 3 scoring lines might be achieved.

    This would have the added bonus of getting Teddy Purcell off the dame ice and into the press box where he belongs.

  • Derzie

    It brings me great pain to see McDavid be this good knowing how he ended up being an Oiler. One of the great sporting tragedies is that the incompetence of management ends up landing this player. Goes against every principle that we teach our kids. Work hard, do your best, learn and adjust to adversity, and good things will come. This is the exact opposite result. He is as special as they say and that makes the injustice that much worse. Enjoy him fans. I for one cannot even watch him play as the unfairness is overwhelming.

    • tdese

      If you want to play that card I guess you can’t watch any Penguins games either?

      The Penguins won the lottery on Crosbys year.

      Previous management may not deserve McDavid (which they are no longer steering the ship) but the fan base 100% does.

      On top of it all the Oilers were the only team that wasn’t intentionally tanking like Arizona and Buffalo was.

      The Oilers were legitimately that terrible, therefore the Oilers deserve McDavid. We’re just extremely lucky and we’re all glad he’s here to stay.

    • clrsnldvc81

      Stop watching him then, please do us all a favor and grow up. This is the way the draft works, you can teach your kids about life from a draft lottery? Would you be saying the same thing had he gone to arizona or buffalo? Teams that literally tried to finish last? Sick of these butt hurt cry babies.

      • Not to mention had the format been changed to the only thing that makes sense, which is after a team is mathematically eliminated they begin accruing draft points, thus giving teams something to play for, but also giving bad teams longer to play for it.

        Edmonton would have won the draft based on that system this year.

        At the very least it shows they didn’t stop trying to win even when they were out of it early.

        If anyone deserved this id, it was the Oilers.

      • Derzie

        I don’t watch. Just because something works a certain way doesn’t make it fair or that we have to accept it. Of the ways to get McDavid there were 3 : 1) Trying but not good enough, 2) Tanking 3) Incompetent. Best case scenario is #1, worst case scenario is #3. It gets amplified by having the best player in 20 years be the prize. There are also 3 scenarios in who gets the #1: 1) No #1 pick ever, 2) #1 in the last decade or so, 3) Had a #1 pick recently. There was also a 4th category of 1 team that had multiple #1 picks in multiple years. A worst case scenario occurred yet again. All of this is irrelevant to your enjoyment of the player but very relevant to those who value fairness and competition like myself. I’ll get off the soapbox and know these posts will get nothing but trashes but wanted to share a perspective that wasn’t just a love fest for an obviously (stats) very special player.

        • OtOil

          You don’t watch him or the team he plays on, yet you’re compelled enough to come onto a fan blog and complain about the system and about results of that system? Get a life bud. Justify whatever you want to, but this is how the draft works, and has worked for the last few decades. Life is not fair, things don’t work out for you and it sucks for alot people, it happens all the time. I’m mad that i don’t win the lottery every week, but I don’t bitch and complain about the person who did win it. It’s a draw. Do you get mad about 50/50 winners too? Call it whatever you want but it’s nothing but sour grapes, all i hear is another baby that needs his diaper changed.

        • Oilersphan

          You say a lot of things, but it all comes down to you’re a whinny little girl who’s trying hard to make Oiler fans feel bad about McDavid; but again, it only encourages us.

          Also, how you decide what out the the options you give is the worse case scenario is just stupid. Also how you decide that the Oilers didn’t try. They fired a losing coach half way through the season and brought in a guy that had the team winning again. How is that not trying?

          As in my example of the Leafs, firing a winning coach and bringing in a guy to make the team lose seems waaaaay more like not trying to me. Also Tanking is way worse than poor management. Intentionally trying to lose games for a paying fan base just so you can have better ODDS (not even guarantee) of getting a better player.

          Buffalo, Arizona, and Toronto got what their tanking management deserved: consolation prizes.

          What is really going to make you mad is when the Oilers just barely miss the playoffs, and win the lottery again. That’s gonna be more difficult to swallow than whatever it is you are swallowing currently (hint, it’s not your entitlement).

        • Rebuilding the Rebuild

          You secretly own 3 McDavid jerseys don’t you?

          I don’t understand why opposing fans feel the need to tell us why they hate our team. It’s like they think that through some pseudo rational discourse, they’ll ‘get through to us’ and we’ll all change our allegiances en mass. GTFO with that. I’ve watched this team suffer and bleed for years. Unwavering fandom here.

          I still can’t believe McDavid is an Oiler, but I won’t feel bad about enjoying it.

        • a) I didn’t trash your previous comment or this one. Having McDavid for the next 15 years or more is punishment enough.
          b) However, your 3 scenarios are the dumbest ideas that I have read in awhile. Have you ever noticed the number of high draft choices the Detroit Lions have received over the years? Or the Raiders? For the longest time the LA Clippers had top 3 picks and they still sucked for the longest time. Yes, it is unfortunate that some clubs get rewarded for being lousy, but this is the system that all professional sports use. Live with it. Have a good McDavid Weekend…

        • Mooseroni

          Hey I remember you, the guy who was always picked last in gym class. Those high school bullies were really unfair not to mention those mean girls in cooking 101. Its good to hear you are getting better after that really messy situation with those 12 years old who unfairly gave you a wedgie and made you cry. Thats what happens when you leave your mommies basement.

    • Hhhmm, not sure if Flames fan of Leafs fan. I would say Flames fan except most of them have the good sense not to poke the bear right now considering how terrible their team is. So instead I think I’m gonna go with Leafs fan as for some reason they still have the smug idea that they somehow were destined to get McDavid and that would have been the best place for him to go.

      As such let me say this. As bad as the Oilers have been run, it doesn’t compare to the ineptitude of the Leafs management for decades.

      Considering the Leafs have been the most profitable team in the NHL forever, it makes no sense, in either pre or post cap eras, the Leafs have been as bad as they have been for so, so, so long.

      But maybe we should just look at the example of last year. Here you have a team that was in the playoffs after Christmas, and that’s when it was decided it would be best to make a coaching change. To the surprise of no one, the team completely caved in.

      It was pretty clear someone in management said, let’s tank for this McDavid kid, even though right now we’re in the play offs. They did, they didn’t get him, all is right with the world.

      So thanks for stopping by, cause your hate only makes watching McDavid that much more enjoyable.

    • Oil4Brains

      Sucks doesn’t it but “life’s not fair” that’s what I teach my kids when things don’t go the way they want.

      Suck it up butter cup and look on the bright side at least you have Phaneuf – the greatest Captain & best defenseman in the league. LMFAO

    • Jordan88

      Wait are you a fan of “Sell the farm and tank for McDavid Buffalo?” or are you a fan of “Arizona needs McDavid to jump ticket prices from 10 dollars to 12 dollars, so lets just suck.”

      The McDavid bowl they had where those two teams faced off against each other was sad when I heard the fans cheering for the other team scoring.

      Yall got what you deserved.

      Remember that one game where we got mocked for winning a meaningless game and pushing ourselves out of drafting Ekblad and got Draisaitil?

      Yeah I cheered when we won that game, because Smyth was the hardest working hardest playing Oiler I ever seen and he was the heart of our team. It was the best way to say good buy to an old friend. I like to think it was because of the fans never giving up on this team, Yeah I gave up on management but I never gave up on my team it was for those reasons for those pains the Hockey Gods blessed us with McDavid.

    • ubermiguel

      I don’t want to feed the trolls, but here it goes: Oilers fans have had more than their share of losing players unfairly.

      The Boys on the Boys were slowly dismantled starting with Coffey, followed by the Gretzky sale, then everyone else. Due to economics we lost every player we loved at some point and no Oilers great has played his entire career with this team.

      And I blame Pronger for the last decade of pain. He was the sort of player you build a team around, but he destroyed it all by demanding a trade and we got pennies on the dollar back. I loved him as a player, but he screwed us on the way out of town.

      So as a fan I’ll take McDavid without shame, we’ve earned it with our loyalty and our pain.

    • DieHard

      This comment is overwhelmingly idiotic. Must a flames fan. The unfairness of it all. Huh? What? So, you’ll never watch this guy play. Then don’t and stop commenting and we’ll all just call that fair. OK

    • Sports ≠ Reality.

      Anyone who watches sports should know this. It’s a fantasy land of highly trained athletes making millions of dollars. Enjoy it for the entertainment and don’t try to relate it to real life.

  • 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.

  • 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!