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Photo Credit: © Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Three Thoughts: Connor

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

Feb 7, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Kings defenseman Christian Folin (5) and Edmonton Oilers left wing Jujhar Khaira (16) fight in the first period at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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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RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

        • crabman

          I personally never saw the NHL live until I moved to Edmonton in 2010. Until then it was just tv. I grew up in Cape Breton and was fortunate enough to catch some Oilers before they made the big club or when coming back on a rehabilitation stint. But we live in an age where we are fortunate enough to have entire channels devoted to sports/hockey. I remember seeing old 70’s and 80’s playoff games rebroadcasted on TSN or ESPN classic and NHL network. Great to be able to see some historic games and compare to today’s hockey. With that said I have never seen someone consistently play at McDavid’s speed and make plays under control. I agree he is the most exciting player I’ve had the pleasure to watch. I only hope Chiarelli, or whoever our future GM is, can surround him with the right players to give him the opportunity for team success.

        • madjam

          You probably seen Bobby Orr play and what a wonderful talent and skater he was. Gretzky in a league of his own and his 3rd year pro was incredible from then on . McDavid not in that realm yet , but a dynamic talent none the less . I’d be your senior being as I turned 71 this year and seen most of the greats over their careers .

  • ubermiguel

    On another article I posited McDavid is among the most talented I’d ever seen (only surpassed by Gretzky and Lemieux), but “most dynamic, most exciting” works too. “Talent” to me means doing something that few people (or no-one else) can replicate even with massive amounts of practice. I can’t comment on players before the early 80s. Anyone here see Howie Morenz play? I hear he was pretty good.

    • 24% body fat

      talented is used to describe the tools a player has puck handling etc. Skilled is when a player utilized those talents to master their craft. Omark = Talent, Smyth = skilled. I get so frustrated when they refer to players with a stick handling talent as high skilled.

      As for dynamic, thats a tough one.

      Lemiuex, Kovalev, Datsuyk, Kariya,; some of the most talented player ever

      Crosby, Gretzky, Lemieux, Yzerman, Sackic the most skilled players

      I know i missed guys from the older generations just trying to keep it relative for comparisons.

  • Rama Lama

    There have been guys that are almost as fast as Connor, both past and present ( past Modano, Bure, current Kriader) but never have we seen someone who can skate and stick handle at top speed. In this regard Connor is unequaled.

    I think that he needs someone who can play at this speed but this someone need to be a shooter. I think he may also benefit from a line mate that can slow the game down by buying a little time and space………and get the puck on his stick as he is ready to explode.

    I know I’m asking for a lot but because he is as good as he is, he needs complimentary players. Lucic in my mind is NOT that player. He just does not have any abilities to handle the puck anymore. If PC can find a good fit for Connor, I will cut him some slack, but I’m not holding out any hope.

  • Rama Lama

    There have been guys that are almost as fast as Connor, both past and present ( past Modano, Bure, current Krider) but never have we seen someone who can skate and stick handle at top speed. In this regard Connor is unequaled.

    I think that he needs someone who can play at this speed but this someone need to be a shooter. I think he may also benefit from a line mate that can slow the game down by buying a little time and space………and get the puck on his stick as he is ready to explode.

    I know I’m asking for a lot but because he is as good as he is, he needs complimentary players. Lucic in my mind is NOT that player. He just does not have any abilities to handle the puck anymore. If PC can find a good fit for Connor, I will cut him some slack, but I’m not holding out any hope.

  • Randaman

    Robin,
    I’m 59 as well. Grew up in Edmonton and had 1/2 season tickets for the glory years as they say.
    Gretzky was other worldly, Coffey was smooth as silk, I remember hearing Messier’s skates cut the ice as he accelerated. Fuhr’s glove hand was like lightning. Anderson was absolutely fearless and unpredictable as well. He had a wicked stick.
    That all aside, Connor is second only to Gretzky in my eyes. Edge of your seat at the game or at home every time he hits the ice. My wife is even getting back into it since she has witnessed his talent.

    Thank Gord we have him. Hate to imagine where we would be without him.

      • Serious Gord

        The greats in hockey all evolved their game as aged. While most were all excellent skaters they had other skills and they thought the game at a level higher than their fellow competitors.

        But I think that McDavid differs from them all in how much his speed dominates how he plays and how he has to be defended against.

        I have wondered for sometime now how or if he will modify his game to remain dominant as he footspeed declines as it most assuredly will.

        And this reliance on speed may see his dominance decline faster than other greats.

        • crabman

          @ Serious Gord, I don’t know how you can be worried about McDavid not evolving his game away from speed at this point in his career. He hasn’t had to. But his game is already evolving. He is shooting more because he was looked at as a pure passer. He’s worked to improve his faceoffs. He is stronger on the puck and protects the puck better as he attacks the net.

          McDavid uses his speed as a weapon because it is his best weapon. But he works hard on his game and we have already seen improvments. I’m sure as he gets older and stronger we will see him use that to his advantage as well. But to discount what he might do in the future based on him using his best attributes to his advantage today seems very pessimistic to me.

        • Redbird62

          I wouldn’t worry about McDavid’s speed diminishing. Bure was still tearing up the league with his speed at 30, with 59 goals. It was injuries that knocked him out after that. Mike Gartner set the speed record in 1996 at the ripe young age of 36! It also seems like you are suggesting that

          McDavid doesn’t have other skills nor thinks at a higher level than his fellow competitors. You can’t be “Serious!” His stick handling on his shoot-out goal last night, when he was skating fairly slowly, is but one example.

        • Joy S. Lee

          Boy, you live to be a downer, don’t you? Don’t worry, McDavid has a full toolbox, and it’s not like he’s going to slow down THAT much as he ages. As Robin said, he’s 21, and he’s still going to improve across multiple skills, attitude, knowledge, abilities… I mean, seriously, he’s 21 and you’re warning everyone about his quick decline due to age? Good grief, you live to spew garbage and really should consider a recycling program for all of this waste.

      • cmandev77

        Messier had a whole lot better players to play with than McDavid has had so far. McDavid is a very dynamic and exciting player to watch. Gretzky is the best of all time and greatest Oiler ever. McDavid in no time has already made himself in the top 5 Oilers list of all time. In a few more years I am sure he will be number 2 on this list.

        • MrBung

          It was introduced into the conversation about the “second” best. I was getting at that to be truly great or considered “second” above a player of Messier’s calibre, it requires Stanley Cup accomplishments.

  • OilCan2

    My dad took me to the first ever event at Edmonton’s Coliseum; the WHA Oilers home opener 10 NOV 1974. I sat in almost the same seats watching Connor play his first ever game in an Oiler jersey against the Bears. In his first shift he terrorized the goalie twice going in alone. Yikes what excitement!! Let’s hope he grabs the scoring title again this year and stays healthy for another eight or more.

  • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

    Gretzky was just a scrawny little kid, but he “thought” the game better than anyone in history. He just knew what to do with and without the puck at all times. McDavid plays like his body was designed exclusively for hockey.

  • Heschultzhescores

    We are very lucky to have McDavid. Seems many of the greatest players to ever play the game had to come through the hockey captial of the world first to prove it. WTG E-Town!

  • Heschultzhescores

    And the solution for both McDavid and Lucic is to have them on separate lines. McD needs a super-fast skater with good hands to finish. Lucic needs to go back to the cycle game with some big bodies, that is his strength. Two very different types of players, two very different types of lines are required, and both of them can be very effective that way.

  • Kneedroptalbot

    Been watching since the WHA days. The one’s that really stood out.
    Gretzky (made pros look silly as a teenager) always thinking, one step ahead.
    Selanne, (the Finnish Flash, 76 goals as a rookie) saw him live many times,
    Coffey (the smoothest skater) incredible offensive d-man,
    Bure, (Russian Rocket) could spin on a dime and break a game open at any time,
    Lemeiux, incredible reach(complete package) size, skill, smarts.

  • Explicit

    I’ll try to be less negative when I comment in the future. Believe it or not I am an Oiler fan. I can’t stand the OBC at all. I’ve spent my life watching this gong show while hearing about how good they were in the 80’s. I have no reason to believe this management team has any idea how to put a winning team together in the present landscape. Blame Chia or the coaches all you want, but I believe the direction the organization decided to take is what’s to blame, and that has nothing to do with the coaches or the gm.

    Connor is a special talent. I just really hope his career isn’t defined by the terrible management of the team he had no choice of being drafted by.

    I really don’t think Connor will ever have as much success as he could have simply because he got drafted by the worst run team in all of pro sports. I hope I’m proved wrong, and I love watching him play. It’s just sad to see his talent wasted away on this terrible team

  • KennyG

    Different game in Gretzkys era. He was the 👑. Mario healthy would have broke most of his records. The second 👑. Crosby 👑 until Connor taking the throne. Game of thrones is on. Some wonderful players in the game now.

  • Disappointed

    Jujhar, Jujhar, Jujhar, Jujhar, Jujhar. All this talk about 97 but Jujhar is also going to have a long career. I think he is my favourite player on this team. Big, tough(who knew), fast, I hope he become a perennial 40 pt man. Bet he also turns out to ge one of those quiet leader types.

  • Odanada

    The family is going to Florida and I will be attending the Oiler/panther game on the 17th with my son (it’s his 10th birthday present) and his Grandfather. There was a wide array of seats to choose from and we settled on 15th row directly behind the Panther net ($40 US each). Why there and not more towards centre ice? Because it will be worth it to have 2 periods of McDavid attacking the Panther goal. That is how exciting Connor is.
    My father in law saw many games in the 70s at the Montreal Forum and always says that Guy Lafleur was the most exciting player he ever saw. It will be interesting to see if McDavid turns his head, but I’m not holding my breath as he is a stubborn old Habs fan!

    • Explicit

      Or… you can look at in a positive light!! Because of McDavid, people will take the time to go watch the oilers play. Which in turn will allow the OBC to keep there jobs in upper management longer! Connor is a gravy train for the 80’s oilers

  • 1ncinawhile

    McDavid is unbelievable! The amount of chances he gets per game is absurd! He’s going to figure out how to score on those breakaways and then watch out! Multiple goal games EVERY game… seriously… how many grade-A chances does he get per game! It’s only up from here folks! 8 more years of 82 highlight reals per year!

      • 1ncinawhile

        I’m saying he has multiple breakaways / one on one with the goalie and often doesn’t score… it’s not a criticism.. So untie the knott in your panties and calm down… all I’m saying is, he’s only going to get better at cashing in on the many many chances he creates every game – that ok? Or do you wanna keep saying “wtf” “wtf” “wtf” …

        • camdog

          McDavid started cashing in on penalty shots/breakaways near Christmas. It took some time, but he’s slowed it down a lot when he’s in alone and he is starting to score more as a result.

          • 1ncinawhile

            Right, I’ve actually noticed he’s been cashing in on more of them lately. All I’m saying is… he makes the best deffencemen in the league look like fools… won’t be long before he’s doing the same for the goalies… it’s only upward from here for McDavid

  • camdog

    I’m of the belief the team is so scared of cap implications that they only want to play certain players on McDavid’s wing. Remember this is the Oilers team that payed Leon an extra 1.5 million per season because of Connor.

  • lucky

    Khaira: “this team is my family”. Yes you build your team around Connor McDavid, but what this team has been missing is heart. Too many special, entitled players, gifted their ice time, not earning it. Did anybody else get Georges’ memo? Bobby Nick talks culture. I’d be stapling an A on JJ’s chest if he keeps this up, some guys in the locker room may need an old fashioned talking to.

    • IRONman

      McDavid brings it. JJ is what this team needs. Maroon stuck up for his team too. Lucic??? Not sure about this guy. Every team needs at least one exciting player. 97 is total package

  • Alberta Ice

    Gretzky was the greatest, but as noted, he played with great teammates and talented depth too. McDavid is certainly in the same stratosphere; but sadly, the team he plays with now has nothing like the depth of the team Gretzky played with. So do you blame management? Can the future only get better? Or will Cap space be the thorniest issue in the ongoing saga of the McDavid era?

    • MrBung

      They have got a lot of money tied up in that player. They must feel obligated to play him on that line. Perhaps in his conversations with Chia pet, he made some “promises” about ice time with McDavid. Weirder things have happened. Anyhow, you are right.