This is the dawn of something special in hockey. We are in the early days of what we will likely look back upon as the Connor McDavid era of the NHL. This 19-year-old centre, still less than 50 games into his NHL career, is in a league of his own.
The Oilers are 2-0 to start the year, defeating the rival Flames 7-4 and 5-3 Wednesday and Friday on the back of amazing performances by Connor McDavid. Others played their parts, but at the core of all this is the unbelievable play of Edmonton’s best player. Back to back three point efforts and in both nights he could have had more. It’s not as if he’s capitalizing on every chance though he does on a lot of them.
He’s faster than he was a year ago. He’s stronger than he was a year ago. He’s more assertive than he was a year ago. If he isn’t the best player in the world right now then the NHL is in a great place, because the person or persons who are superior to McDavid are super-human. We are witnessing greatness.
Text from Scotty Bowman to me just now: “I have not seen a player accelerate like McDavid since Bobby Orr.” #nowthatspraise
— Adrian Dater (@adater) October 15, 2016
From the very first day, the Oilers were gifted Connor McDavid by virtue of that wonderful lottery, the urgency to get better was ramped up. The Edmonton Oilers had three other first overall picks of varied skill and effectiveness, but nobody had entered the league with as much ability as McDavid in a decade. Last year he was an uber-talented rookie still adjusting to life in the NHL. Now, even just one year more matured he is one of the most feared skaters in the league. Not feared because he’s going to send someone to the hospital. Feared because he can walk around anyone on the ice at any time, with the puck, and make something out of nothing.
He’s the kind of player that can make a bad team great, so long as he’s on the ice. But that’s where the effect he has on the game kind of ends. He can only reasonably play 22-23 minutes a night. There are another 38 minutes in the game. We are seeing today, right now, why urgency was preached with regards to the Oilers getting better. This kid is going to do everything imaginable (and some unimaginable) to make the team a winner.
The franchise has quality young players down the middle, headlined by McDavid. They have strength down the left wing, Jordan Eberle on the right. Klefbom and Larsson are going to play top minutes. Sekera and Russell will be there to handle second pair duties. And, Cam Talbot is stopping pucks in net. This team is not without hope. If things break right for them they could surprise a lot of clubs.
If they can find ways to upgrade some of the question marks on the 2nd and 3rd lines and strengthen the defense, then I believe the genius of McDavid could be great enough to propel the Oilers into the playoffs.
Is Kassian capable of playing on the 2nd or 3rd lines regularly and help them be effective?
Will Jesse Puljujarvi develop within a reasonable time-frame to be someone the coaching staff can trust with those minutes too?
Is the Sekera-Russell pairing going to continue their early success?
Can Darnell Nurse take the next step in his NHL career?
These are legitimate questions and the answer to all of them may very well be “Yes”. And, if that’s the case then the Oilers will do much better than pundits first anticipated. But, if the answer to any of them is “No” then we have a problem because the Connor McDavid we imagined when the Oilers won that lottery is here today. He’s leading the NHL in scoring after two games and he might never relinquish the hold he has on that race.
Somehow I think I’ve underestimated how good this generational talent is. He just might be able to almost single-handedly guide his team to a place in the standings that they have no business having based on last year’s performance. The McDavid era in the NHL is here. Today. The window of opportunity for the Edmonton Oilers is ready to be thrown wide open.