If you do anything for long enough, it’s human nature that a little bit of “been there and done that” sneaks into your perception of here and now. I think that’s true of watching hockey and hockey players, which I’ve been doing as a fan and for a living for most of my 59 years. For me, there is no been there and done that with Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers – he is the most dynamic player I’ve ever seen. He’s only 21. Mercy.
I’m not going to sit here in a town with banners hanging in Rogers Place celebrating the careers of the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jari Kurri and call McDavid the greatest or the best player I’ve ever seen. That debate involves entire careers, and with just 194 games on his resume, McDavid is just getting started. That debate is about career stats, consistency in excellence, Stanley Cup rings, being the best of an era or at a position – like Gretzky or Mario Lemieux, Gordie Howe or Rocket Richard, Bobby Orr or Paul Coffey. You know the names.
I’m not talking about the greatest or the best player, at least not yet. I’m talking about the most dynamic, most exciting. The ability to put fans on the edge of their seats, bring them to their feet and send a jolt through the building, as McDavid has since he arrived. He is a combination of speed, acceleration, shiftiness, sick hands, hockey IQ and burning competitiveness I haven’t seen before. We saw a stunning display of that yet again shift after shift in Thursday’s 2-1 shootout win over the New York Islanders.
For the longest time, Pavel Bure was the most dynamic guy for me, just ahead Guy Lafleur. Forget stats or Cup rings or anything else, the Russian Rocket and the Flower were electric. Just put your eyes on them and watch them play. In just 194 games, McDavid, who has already won the Art Ross Trophy, the Hart Memorial Trophy, the Ted Lindsay Award and is the sixth youngest player in NHL history to tally 100 points in season, is that guy for me now.
The dynamic aspect aside, is there a better player in the NHL today? In an NHLPA poll this season, players were asked: which player would you select to start a franchise? McDavid got 48.6 per cent of the vote. Sidney Crosby was a distant second at 23.8 per cent. That’s high praise for a player on a team that will miss the playoffs for the second time in his three seasons with the Oilers. If only somebody could do something about that as McDavid enters the first year of his eight-year contract extension in 2018-19, but that’s another story. Over to you, Pete Chiarelli.
LAYING THE SMACKDOWN
Of all the players who weren’t written into the plans in ink when the Oilers began the season, Jujhar Khaira has done more than anybody else to make himself part of whatever comes next. We saw an aspect of that from Khaira against the Islanders last night when he pumped Cal Clutterbuck for cheap-shotting Iiro Pakarinen in the ribs with a cross-check on a line change. Good for him.
The thing with Khaira is he hasn’t only shown he can play – he’s sitting with 11-8-19 in 54 games – his willingness to step up for a teammate as he did against Clutterbuck adds a dimension. That provides coach Todd McLellan more options with his bottom six forwards, whether he uses Khaira as a centre or a winger.
“It’s one of those things where this team is my family,” Khaira said. “I was always raised you stick up for your family. Pak is my linemate, we’ve been playing together the last five or six games, and (we) just ended up being on the ice at the same time. It’s just one of those things where guys will do that for me. If I can help out, I will.”
ROSTER FILLING OUT
The roster for Hockey Helps the Homeless May 11 at the Terwillegar Rec Centre now sits as 22 as we added 10 more pros to the event this week, including Glenn Anderson, Louie DeBrusk, Fernando Pisani and Jason Strudwick. You can see the roster of former Oilers and pros as it sits now here. I’ll keep you updated on additions as they happen.
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