Connor McDavid is all of 14 games into his NHL career with the Edmonton Oilers and I can’t think of another player wearing the silks of this franchise who has been this good this young and electrified an entire fan base the way McDavid already has since, well, you know . . .
I didn’t know what to expect from McDavid when he returned to the line-up after 13 weeks out of action with a busted collarbone against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Rexall Place last night, but I damn sure didn’t expect that he’d score a goal that would have fans high-fiving all the way to the parking lot and add two assists in a 5-1 win.
After 37 games on the shelf, McDavid’s very presence had the building alive in a way it hadn’t been since he went out, and when he grabbed the puck at centre ice and waltzed through three Columbus defenders before tucking the rubber behind Joonas Korpisalo to make it 2-1, he provided the kind of jolt to the senses you just don’t forget. It was an absolute kick in the ass.
Even the most gifted sets of mitts in the NHL, let alone those belonging to a 19-year-old, aren’t supposed to work like that, producing a goal destined to make the Top-10 highlight reel at every media outlet in the country for 2015-16 after gathering rust for three months. I think “filthy” is the word kids use these days. Old farts like me just say, “Wow,” which I did. That doesn’t happen very often.
It’s no wonder, then, given the misery and ineptitude fans around here have endured for a decade since the last Stanley Cup run in 2006, that they are talking about McDavid taking a run at the Calder Trophy despite missing almost half a season. I chimed in on that last night.
Doesn’t matter if Connor McDavid doesn’t win the Calder Trophy. He’s the best rookie in the NHL, and by a lot. It’s not close.
— Robin Brownlee (@Robin_Brownlee) February 3, 2016
WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT
So did anyone even sleep? ? pic.twitter.com/FKNJAkEOzM
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) February 3, 2016
What makes McDavid special from where I sit is his ability to produce moments like he did on that 2-1 goal. It’s not just the skill it takes to do it but the circumstances involved. It’s the flare for the dramatic, the lightning bolt out of the blue that yanks you out of your seat like you’ve got a booster rocket up your backside.
Rare moments like that used to turn heads in the press box, where cheering isn’t allowed, and set the tongues of seasoned and jaded hockey scribblers wagging and their pounding the keyboard. These days, it sets Twitter alight, as is did last night. As for fans, well that’s another level completely. Framed in years of failure, it’s long overdue.
It’s that kick in the ass I talk about that first got me into sports writing, even if the expectation was you’d leave fandom behind and mute any reaction to what you saw. Even now, years removed from the grind of the beat at the dailies and watching at arm’s length, the kick is there during rare moments like McDavid produced last night.
So much hockey coverage, be it MSM or in the blogging community, these days involves dry data and statistical analysis. What just happened? How did it happen? How likely is it to happen or not happen again? Who does what, and doesn’t, playing with whom? What’s sustainable and what’s not? That’s fine, it’s part of the evolution of how the game is covered.
Once in a blue moon, though, the kind of jolt, the kick in the ass, McDavid just delivered cuts through to the essence of why we care about the game of hockey in the first place. Why we play it. Why we watch it. Why we write about it. Why we talk about it on the radio. Why we debate it. Around here, that kick couldn’t come at a better time.
Fourteen games into his NHL career with the Oilers, McDavid is only now just starting to deliver moments like that. What we have here is a teenager turning this hockey-mad city on its ear, sending fans into the night absolutely amazed at what they just saw. It’s been a long, long time since that happened. There is more, much more, to come.
THE HIGHLIGHT REEL
McDavid’s goal certainly wasn’t the most meaningful or dramatic goal scored in the history of the Oilers at Rexall Place, but it’s certainly among the prettiest I can recollect. The other that stands out for me is this one by Doug Weight against the Calgary Flames in 1997.
Is there another that stands out for you?
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.
RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE