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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Three Thoughts: Bringing the fire

While there are exceptions here and there, when it comes to truly great players, the common denominator isn’t the fastest feet, the softest hands or the highest hockey IQ, although every one of those traits matter. For me, what separates the very best from the rest is having a raging competitive fire in the belly that burns hot no matter what the circumstances.

That’s exactly what we’re seeing from Connor McDavid down the stretch as the Edmonton Oilers wind down a season in which they fell from playoff contention long ago. Here and now, with games meaning nothing in terms of the standings, we’re seeing McDavid at his very best. Phone it in? Not a chance. Play out the string in a season that’s been a monumental disappointment? No way. Instead, we’ve seen McDavid charge into the lead in the NHL scoring race for the Art Ross Trophy, blowing by Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning like he’s tied to a post.

With a goal and two assists in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks at Rogers Place Sunday, McDavid leads the NHL scoring race with 39-60-99. In 13 games dating back to March 1, McDavid has scored 11-13-24. If you go back to Feb. 1, he’s put up 24-21-45 in his last 27 games. Some people call this garbage time, when the games don’t matter. I don’t buy it, not with No. 97.

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The thing is, we saw exactly the same balls-out performance from McDavid down the stretch a year ago when results meant everything and every point mattered with the Oilers pushing for their first playoff spot in a decade. In his last 13 games a year ago, McDavid scored 6-18-24. He was at his very best when the team needed him most. He’s again at his very best with none of the same chips on the table. He’ll win the Art Ross Trophy. The Hart? We’ve touched on that before. The debate continues. McDavid has no say in what voters do. He’s having his say on the ice.

All the competitive fire in the world won’t turn a plugger, a try-hard guy without enough skill, into an elite player. I know lots of players who were competitive as hell and made it to the NHL with modest skills based on their work ethic and competitiveness. Take that fire and add it to the level of skill McDavid is blessed with and you get what we’ve got here. Watching this has been a thing of beauty during an unquestionably ugly season.

THAT BEAR KID

Mar 1, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defensemen Ethan Bear (74) skates during warmup against the Nashville Predators at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

When you’re talking about a fifth-round pick draft pick who is only 20 years old, a defenceman no less, history tells us it makes no sense to read too much into a 13-game stretch, be it good or bad. That much we know. That said, I’m guessing Ethan Bear has looked for more ready at this point in his development during his stint with the Oilers than anybody expected.

Bear scored his first NHL goal on a sweet feed from McDavid against the Ducks, sneaking down from the point on the power play to fire a one-timer past John Gibson for a 4-3 lead. He also picked up an assist, giving him 1-3-4 in the 13 games he’s played since being summoned from Bakersfield of the AHL.

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“We were just cycling it around for a bit trying to open up lanes and that time came when I went down,” Bear said. “Connor made a nice pass and I just tried to bear down and I put it in and it was a good feeling after that . . . it’s a play I’m going to remember for the rest of my life for sure.” You can listen to the full interview here.

Bear continues to show terrific offensive instincts. More often than not he makes the right play when he has the puck and he has a knack, as was the case against Anaheim, of going to the right spots on the ice. That goes for even strength and on the power play. His defensive game has been better than I expected – not perfect by any stretch, but pretty good for a youngster who is just getting his feet wet.

That doesn’t mean GM Pete Chiarelli or coach Todd McLellan should approach the off-season assuming Bear will be ready to be a fixture on the back end next season. We’ve seen players look good in short stretches before only to fade or take a step back, but his performance to date has been an eye-opener for me.

AND . . .

A stick tap today for hockey trailblazer Robin Bawa, who is celebrating his 52nd birthday. Bawa, a member of the Kamloops Blazer teams I covered in the WHL in the 1980s, became the first Punjabi player to make it to the NHL when he made his debut with the Washington Capitals during the 1989-90 season. I wrote about him here. I’d like to believe people don’t even think about race or ethnicity these days, but the journey to the NHL was a far tougher road to navigate when Bawa came up through the ranks.

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RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  



  • Facts

    I think Nate Mac has the hart if the Aves make the playoffs. However, there is no doubt in my mind that after Connor pulls 10 points ahead in the Art Ross race and wins it that players will vote for him to win the Ted Lindsey. I think this award means more because it is voted for the guys actually out there playing against him every night, not just some guys watching the stats and standings.

    • cmandev77

      I think Connor will win the Lindsey. He and Sidney Crosby are the two most respected players in the game according to their peers. A recent player survey showed those two as the players the rest of the league would build an NHL team around. Connor these past two months has been UNBELIEVABLE.

    • Dan 1919

      I would think if a player wins the Art Ross and the Ted Lindsey, that secures them as that season’s undisputed best player. Someone else could still win the Hart as a huge honour, but it would be more in line with a different category like the Lady Byng if you know what I mean.

      • Dan 1919

        In all honesty, the Hart is kind of gimmicky. Basically if a guy is good enough to win the Art Ross and Ted Lindsay, the reality is he’s having the biggest impact on his team, regardless if they make the playoffs or not. Sure there could be close runners up, but to me it’s a moot point, the results speak for themselves.

        • Glencontrolurstik

          The Hart trophy goes back to the 20’s. You can’t replace that or take it away. The Ted Lindsey Trophy was first awarded in the late 60’s or early 70’s. So, although kind of a moot point, I guess they have their place?

          • Kepler62c

            I’d say the problem is the Hart and Ted Lindsey are too similar that it’s always going to seem ridiculous if the same player doesn’t get both, which defeats the purpose of having two “different” awards. I think everyone sees the Hart as more prestigious, but for me whoever the players pick is the undisputed MVP – what do a bunch of hockey writers see that the players don’t?

            Hard to scrap either award, but maybe redefining one of them is possible – right now they have two seemingly identical awards, that are awarded by different bodies, that somehow don’t come to the same conclusion. This sparks the fan bases to react negatively to one result or the other.

  • Wayner

    I didn’t see the same game as the writer I saw 4 bad giveaways countless side to side passes failed to get in position on power play for one timers. Real nice goal tho. He needs more AHL time for sure. No buddy should be learning the pro game at the NHL level next year.

    • Dan 1919

      He did have a couple giveaways last night, and he’s a 20 year old rookie defencemen. If that’s unacceptable errors than damn, you must have a prospect cupboard filled with proteges.

      • 24% body fat

        not unacceptable for him to have give aways, it is unacceptable that he be given the position next year. he has to go down and work those out so it doesn’t cost games in the nhl next year.

  • Dan 1919

    Completely agree with RB about Bear. I was wondering what I was missing when I saw some people being critical of his gam, so I specially watched him anytime I noticed he was on the ice last night. He’s not Doubty but like RB says, for a 20 year old rookie dman on a team that is desperate for offensively gifted RH D, he is a pure gem for the team to have in the system. Hopefully he keeps it up and turns out a solid player.

  • Craig1981

    McDavid has an outside chance at the Rocket Richard if he can keep up this pace as well. I havent heard anyone talk about it, but he is only 5 back and on fire. He needs a hatty to really put the pressure on

  • Wayner

    I agree with you Dan he maybe be just what the doctor ordered ,in time .I just think he should be learning in AHL the oil can’t afford to lose points dew to rookie mistakes next year.

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    I feel obligated to leave a comment.

    For me, as a lover of the sport, Connor transcends jerseys. I count myself very lucky that my sons will have a chance to watch him in his his prime.

    WHICH HE HASN’T HIT YET.

    I’m scared. 🙁

    • Memyself&i

      I concur. Hasn’t hit his prime yet. And he’s this good. It’s incredible!
      I say it at least once a week to friends and family – we are so lucky to have Connor McDavid!!

  • Connor McFly

    Ethan Bear is a true feel-good story. He clearly has a very good chance of being a key D man going forward. I hope he starts in the AHL next season. He still has lots to learn in his own zone. The list of young Oilers players being forced into the NHL too early is long and distinguished. In each case smart gm’s took the player and he developed into an asset…elsewhere.

    • Hemmercules

      I would be interested to see an article on weather or not the Oilers really do rush their prospects way faster than other teams do. It gets mentioned frequently.

      • Glencontrolurstik

        It’s not only “rushing” players up. Just playing highly skilled players in the minors is not going to develop them after a certain point. They need to play with a little more intensity, surrounded by more skill. Pullijarvi is a perfect example. This guy’s skill level far exceeds the AHL level. But, with his age and experience, if kept in the AHL for too long would play down to that level. I think we have made a mistake with him, by not playing him on a top line on the Oilers to let him get comfortable & shine. Not everyone needs too long AHL experience, they need to be challenged, coached & developed. Not just thrown in Jr’s to do the inevitable bounce up & down. That’s where the Oiler’s are making a mistake & ex Oiler’s shine when they are shipped to other teams.

        • Hemmercules

          JP is a funny thing to discuss. You have some that think he should be in the AHL and others that think he should be gifted first line minutes with McD. I personally think its going just fine. Let the kid play the lesser NHL lines and improve himself. I found it funny when someone mentioned one day that the Oilers dropped the ball not hiring him an English teacher. He’s young but he is an adult, he had an entire summer to better his english before camp this season, the guy can’t proactively do it on his own?? I guess you have to coddle your millionaires these days.

          • Glencontrolurstik

            He has improved his English. I don’t think he has a problem communicating with team-mates?
            In fact, the team could use that as a positive. I don’t know if you remember Essa Tikkinnen (sp)?
            No body ever understood a word he said & he wouldn’t shutup. That in itself was good for a couple of PP’s & goals during the playoffs. Not being understood, especially by the opposition isn’t a bad thing in the NHL. Also, it’s not about “millionaire’s”, it’s about under 20, first time away from home in a different country, where you couldn’t speak the language. That’s why you have to make him feel comfortable until he settles in. No other reason, (comfortable life + comfortable player) = goals + points… He’s getting their & will be a huge asset to this team. Whatever it takes man…