Photo Credit: © Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Play McDavid More Minutes

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.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

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?

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

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.


Feb 1, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) celebrates a second period goal against the Colorado Avalanche at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

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.


Photo Credit: James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports

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.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

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.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • Spydyr

    I’m all for playing Connor more minutes but in the playoffs. Yes, I know you have to get there first but wearing McDavid down in the regular season is not the way I would go. It would be better to have a fresher McDavid in the playoffs.

    Look how well riding Talbot hard worked out. Although IMO it is not the reason he faltered last season many here have used it as an excuse for his poor play

    • Jason Gregor

      How is playing him more PP minutes wearing him down? Or one extra EV shift. If he takes three more shifts, two of them on the PP he will increase by over two minutes and be around 23:30-24:00 min. Many others have done it and none of them compared to McDavid’s skating ability. He is very light on his skates. He doesn’t waste energy when skating. And no offence to Talbot, fatigue wasn’t his issue. His best games were late in the season.

        • Jason Gregor

          Incorrect. They have two units and he comes of when the first unit goes off. You think if they never practiced him being on the 2nd unit, he would just decide to go against the coach and stay out every PP. Not how it works. Not close.

          • Glencontrolurstik

            The big problem with playing him for the full 2 min PP is, (at least last season anyway) the fact that post PP we are not able to put out a top offensive line. The short-handed team will definitely have a rested first scoring line available when McDavid has to be resting. If this happened last season, like you say, the opposition would have a hay-day scoring against either a dead-dog tired first or second line without McDavid or a 3rd or 4th line.
            Better to have 2 or 3 balanced lines on a PP & keep a rested even attack available when the PP ends. McDavid does need to be utilized effectively for sure. But the danger here is the burn-out & eventual disgruntles. He has to be used in a sustainable, respectful way.

        • Spydyr

          I don’t have the stats but i’m pretty sure I remember McDavid playing almost all on some powerplays even more so later in the season. Only a fool would take McDavid off of the powerplay if he was not tired. Wait that might explain some things with the Oiler coaching staff.

    • Finnaggled

      Gravis82 – mcdavid improves the play of anyone he plays with (fact) and can create points regardless of linemates (fact). How is playing him an extra shift at 4c wasting ice time at all?? Also, why would you think there is enough of a difference between our 4L wingers and our 3L wingers to make a point of Mcdavid playing there instead? Makes no sense.

  • Total Points

    i would not have a third line center. Have McDavid and Drei take turns. Oilers can then spend more money on top 6 wingers

    Most teams with a top defenceman like Suter, Doughty, etc play huge minutes therefore they can afford to pay them more and their 5th and 6th less

  • camdog

    Connor was scheduled to play more minutes this season but that flu really kicked him in the arse this season. Between the days sick and days to get his weight back the season was already over.

  • OilCan2

    There are TONS of TV time outs EVERY game. Rest up 97 and get him back out fresh. Double shift 97 in the closing minutes of the 1st & 2nd. Use the time outs for resting 97. I like the idea of 97 running both power play units.

  • bleedingcoppernblue

    Gregor, I enjoy your articles and generally agree with your ideas but you lost me at the comparison of a basketball superstar to a hockey God. Also, the most successful teams in playoffs are those with exceptional depth. Winnipeg and Vegas for example are so successful not. Because of any one superstar dominating but by playing 4 strong lines and having every player have an important role on the team.

    • crabman

      The comparison is they are both stars that people come to see and they both dominate when playing.
      And talking about depth right now is a moot point. The Oilers don’t have the same depth as Vagas or Winnipeg or any other top team. That is exactly why Gregor is suggesting playing McDavid more. He even goes on to say as the younger players come up and provide depth ease McDavid’s minutes back down.
      But as far as next year goes, with the Oilers lack of depth, why not play the best player in the world a little bit more? The Oilers are better with McDavid on the ice. The more the better.

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    Doesn’t McClellan cut his ice time when we don’t have a chance to win or the other team has no chance to win though

    I seem to remember him playing 24-28 minutes a night when we were losing but around 19 minutes when we had a lead or were getting blown out.

  • godot10

    Less is sometimes more. More is sometimes less. Hockey is a team sport. Fatigue leads to mistakes and greater potential for injury.

    Burn him out before the playoffs. Yep…that’s the solution to the Oilers problems.

    Find a GM who can find players, and a coach who can coach players, and then you don’t have to play McDavid 25 minutes.

  • BlueHairedApe

    McD was down to 14 to 17 minutes per game while he was sick which brought down his average but having said that Gregor is right. Play the man every shift

  • Braindead

    McDavid so awesome playing against men that have to work two job to support their families. I wonder how many millions of dollars go into developing the Koreans Hockey Team. What a joke the IIHF is

  • Big Nuggets

    I would only be worried that playing him more would increase his chances of injury. Playing tired is when the injuries happen. If the team looks like it can squeak into the playoffs I would recommend not playing him more mintutes.

  • TKB2677

    I agree with Gregor on this one. There is all this talk about Oilers needing more depth. They need to find cheap guys that can score a lot in the bottom 6. They need to go out and find a replacement for Pakarinen and Slep. I am not saying that is wrong because you do sort of. But if you are worried about getting some scoring from your 4th line, do what Gregor said and play McDavid more. Go out and get yourself a good, faceoff winning, PK playing, right handed 4th line center that has some scoring like a Derek Ryan who was in Carolina. Ryan had 11 goals last year, 15 goals this past season. Plays some time on their PP, had some PK time, is right handed and best of all was 56% on faceoffs. He’s basically a younger Letestu. So dress 11 forwards and 7 dmen. Have McDavid double shift on the 4th line wing. Even have Drai double shift on the 4th line. Last year McDavid average 21:33 and Leon was 19:19. You are paying 12.5 for McDavid and 8.5 for Leon. So 21 mill combined which is what 3 or 4 really good NHLers make. So play them. Add another couple of mins to McDavid and a couple more mins to Leon. If you are paying these guys that much, you need to get as much out of them as you can. Plus it will screw up the other team if McDavid jumps over the boards when it’s 4th line time.