As I watch Lebron James dominate the NBA in his 15th season, I wonder if the Oilers should look at finding ways to have Connor McDavid on the ice more. I know Basketball and hockey are different, but when your best player is involved in the game more, your chances of winning improve.
McDavid averaged 21:33/game last season after playing 21:08/game the previous year. Without question, he is the fastest player in the NHL today, and the most dynamic. He’s also only 21 years of age. He is young, vibrant and in great shape. He can handle more minutes, especially if they are the right minutes.
He averaged the fourth most minutes in the NHL among forwards, trailing Anze Kopitar (22:05/game), Aleksander Barkov (22:04) and Sean Couturier (21:36). This coming season, McDavid should play the most minutes of any forward in the league.
McDavid can handle more minutes and if I’m Todd McLellan I look for ways to have him play three to four more minutes a night.
In the past 15 NHL seasons (from 2002/2003 to 2017/2018), McDavid’s 21:33/game ranks 75th highest among NHL forwards.
Ilya Kovalchuk played the most at 24:44/game, albeit during thelockout-shortenedd 2013 season, but he also had the second most minutes at 24:26/game in 2012. Marty St.Louis played 24:17 and 24:09 in 2007 and 2008.
McDavid played 17:30 at EV this past season, second most in the NHL behind Ryan Getzlaf’s 17:33. Could he handle an extra minute or two at EV? I think he could, but where Todd Mclellan should look to increase his minutes is on the powerplay. Those are easier minutes. The pace is much slower, you are usually on the offensive and I see no reason why he can’t play close to the full two minutes on the man advantage.
He wouldn’t be the first player who plays close to two minutes on the PP. While he was second in EV TOI/game among forwards, he was 61st on PP TOI at 2:58/game. Part of that is due to the Oilers not getting many powerplays (fewest in the NHL at 210), while Colorado led the league with 294, but also because the coaches wanted to use two units. I wouldn’t be opposed to McDavid playing close to two minutes. He is their best player, so why not have him on the ice when you have an advantage?
The other interesting aspect of allotment of minutes is how much we have seen the top players’ minutes diminish.
In 1999, Jaromir Jagr averaged 25:51/game with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Joe Sakic skated 25:35/game and Paul Kariya played 25:32. In 1998 Theo Fleury played 24:57/game. The NHL only started tracking TOI/game in 1997/1998, but in the 1980s and early 1990s superstars played over 25 minutes regularly.
MORE STARS PLEASE
Why are today’s elite players playing less?
Yes, the overall speed in the NHL is better today, but I’d argue there is still a significant gap in skill between bottom six forwards and elite first line players. Even if McDavid is a bit fatigued, he is still more dangerous and effective at 80% speed/cardio than many bottom six forwards are at 100% rest.
Owners and general managers pay their elite players big dollars, so why don’t their coaches play them more?
Star power is what drives the league, and with McDavid a young, healthy thoroughbred of a player I’d look strongly at playing him closer to 24 minutes/game this coming season, and even more if the Oilers draw more penalties.
If Ilya Kovalchuk (28 and 29 years of age) or Marty St.Louis (31 and 32) can play 24 minutes a night, there is no reason a young 21-year-old McDavid can’t. I don’t believe it would burn him out, considering much of his increased icetime will come on the man advantage, when the pace is slower.
The Oilers have the most dangerous weapon in the NHL, and Todd McLellan needs to use it to his advantage more.
Here are some ways he can easily incorporate more minutes for McDavid and even Leon Draisaitl.
1. Formulate a competent and dangerous powerplay. Ask McDavid to hone his powerplay skills this summer. He is the most dynamic player in the NHL, but he could improve his powerplay efficiency. Many star players have improved their PP skills, which are different than EV, mainly due to the pace of play. He is very young and still learning the game. He wanted to shoot more last season, and in the second half of the year when he was healthy and recovered from his illnesses, which led to him losing 15 pounds, he showed how dangerous of a shooter he could be. By focusing on PP attributes in the summer, when he comes to training camp in the fall playing him close to two minutes on the powerplay will reap rewards.
2. You could have two different looking powerplay units, with McDavid being the focus on both of them. On the first unit, with Draisaitl, Oscar Klefbom, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Ty Rattie (or a vet RW they sign. The second unit could have Jesse Puljujarvi, Ryan Strome, Matt Benning (or a newly acquired RD) and Milan Lucic/Drake Caggiula. It would have three right shot options and McDavid could work off the other side of the rink. He is skilled enough to run two different looking units in my eyes.
3. The Oilers dress seven D-men and 11 forwards for specific games. This would allow McDavid and Draisaitl the odd double shift as centres. Is Jujhar Khaira more of a threat as a left winger with McDavid or Draisaitl, or as a centre on the 4th line? Depends on the game and matchup, but on home ice when McLellan has last change having option to get different matchups should be more of a priority, especially if it means #97 is on the ice more.
4. In a few years when the Oilers have should have more depth throughout the lineup, they could look at dialing back his minutes, for the next few seasons if I’m McLellan I’m having a conversation with McDavid this summer to let him know he will be playing close to 24 minutes and let him train accordingly.
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