Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Comparing McDavid and Crosby: The NHL’s two ‘generational’ stars

The term ‘generational talent’ gets bandied about a lot these days, and the exact characteristics that make up such a player have yet to be clearly defined.

So let’s take a stab at this, shall we?

A generational player should be seen as one who only comes around from time-to-time, maybe every decade, or longer. One who exhibits more than one skillset that makes people excitedly claim, on a regular basis, things like: ‘I don’t know if I’ve seen a guy skate like that in a long time — if ever.’ Or, ‘There hasn’t been a better playmaker go through the NHL in all my years of following hockey.’

A generational talent is the one whom 99.9 percent of people would choose if they could, hypothetically, start a franchise with anyone NHL player. It’s the prodigy who lives up to expectations and takes the league by storm during his first few seasons, in both scoring statistics and individual hardware, after a teenage life full of pressure and the expectation of being the next one.

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(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

We could go on and on debating the merits of what defines this polarizing term, but the one thing not up for debate is the fact that Connor McDavid checks all of the boxes, no matter what they are.

How great has No. 97 been through his first three seasons? Lets see how he stacks up against, in my humblest of opinions, the only other active generational player in the game: Sidney Crosby.

There isn’t much of a preface needed here, but Sid is the only other recent prodigy who was on McDavid’s level when it came to yielding heavy doses of scrutiny and media attention before even breaking into the league. And when it comes to production boasted and accolades accumulated through their first three professional campaigns — along with skillset comparables such as skating ability, vision, IQ and playmaking prowess — the two superstars are even more similar and clearly a notch above their superstar peers.

Production — First 3 NHL Seasons (2015 to 2018)

McDavid: 209 games, 87 goals (0.42 GPG), 256 points (1.22 PPG), 53.4% Avg. Corsi, 61 PP points

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Two 100-plus-point seasons / One 40-goal campaign / 70 assists in season No. 2

Crosby:   213 game, 99 goals (0.46 GPG), 294 points (1.38 PPG), 52.1% Avg. Corsi, 131 PP points

Two 100-plus-point seasons / One 39-goal campaign / 84 assists in season No. 2

Awards and Accolades — First 3 NHL Seasons (2005 to 2008)

McDavid: 1 Hart Trophy, 2 Art Ross Trophies, 2 Ted Lindsay Awards, 2 First-Team All-Star nods

No. 1 overall pick in 2015 / Named team captain at age 19 / Runner-up for Calder (Injured)

Crosby: 1 Hart Trophy, 1 Art Ross Trophy, 1 Ted Lindsay Away, 1 First-Team All-Star nod

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No. 1 overall pick in 2005 / Named team captain at age 19 / Runner-up for Calder (Ovechkin)

Mar 31, 2018; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) during the first period against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

You can debate whether a couple other guys — Alex Ovechkin, Erik Karlsson, Patrik Laine, and Auston Matthews, perhaps, should be considered ‘generational players’ based on your own personal criteria, but when looking at the true creme-de-la-creme that has passed through the NHL over the past couple decades, it’s Crosby and McDavid who take the cake.

Aside from their unprecedented production through each of their first three seasons, each possesses particular skillsets that set them apart from their peers.

For McDavid, it’s clearly his open-ice skating ability. Sure there are lots of very good skaters who have passed through the league in the last 20-30 years, but there’s no speedier player with the puck on his stick with a sliver of open ice than No. 97 — he is perhaps, already, the best pure skater to ever play in the NHL.

Sportsnet did a wonderful job breaking down not only McDavid’s speed but how he’s able to control the puck on his twig when ripping down the ice at Mach 12:

For Crosby, it’s his ability to make plays out of nothing combined with his all-time great vision and hockey sense are second-to-none and basically incomparable to anyone in the game today (except maybe McDavid).

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His obscene lower body strength and ability to lower his centre of gravity combined with superb edge work make him and absolute nightmare to try and take the puck off of, and those characterists allow No. 87 that extra second or two to make his move and find the open guy that often most people watching on television can’t even see. He bides his time and he strikes, and nobody does it better.

No. 87 also seems to have a pair of eyes at the back of his head that never blink:

Generational skills, generational production, and generational accolades through the early part of their NHL careers. There’s other, elite, great, amazing players in today’s game, but they all can’t be generational — whatever that means.

Crosby and McDavid are the true craftsmen of this NHL era, that’s for sure so let’s just enjoy the ride while it lasts, without debating the labels.

  • 18% body fat

    No Matthews and Laine are not generational players. Laine is pretty much what he is today. His defensive game will round out and he will be a 85 point players with a season or 2 higher.

    Generational players are at the top of the league scoring right away. Matthews finished 25th in ppg. So if he is genereational there is at least 10-15 players that are generational as well. He has yet to score 30 assists. I have watched him play and while he is capable defensively Im not sure where this elite defensive player talk comes from. I think it is Toronto insecurity that he is not in the same class as Connor. His inability to put up star level amount of assists suggest that he DOES NOT make players around him better yet, and Babcock knew this in the playoff. Does adapting his game to a more balanced approach make the team and players around him better. Maybe. But right now that is a lot of check marks against him as a generational player. Superstar in the making yes. Generational no. Lets not foget he is essentially as old as Connor and Jack, and has played 2 years of major pro and 1 of other pro, so to say he is one year behind is pretty inaccurate too.

  • IP

    “Lets see how [McDavid] stacks up against, in my humblest of opinions the only other true generational player alive: Sidney Crosby.”

    Wait–not even Gretzky?

    • 18% body fat

      There have been 5,

      Orr (maybe controversial)

      You can make the argument you are not generational if you are not the best player in your age group. Ovechkin, very close though. But not enough years in the top 5 in scoring. you need to consistently be there.

      • IP

        Cantlon didn’t say “the only other true generational player currently playing”, though, he said “the only other true generational player alive”. I think we’d have heard about it if Gretzky and Lemieux had both died…

        • Glencontrolurstik

          seems that way? who would you add to the list?
          Maybe Howe? I think Orr for sure, he was miles above any other player on his day, or 10 years previous. Was Henri Richard just hype, or generational? I don’t know.

        • Spydyr

          Howe’s Awards:

          Art Ross Trophy 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1957,1963

          Goal scoring leader 1951, 1952, 1953, 1957, 1963

          Hart Memorial Trophy 1952, 1953, 1957, 1958, 1960,1963

          NHL All-Star Game 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952,1953, 1954, 1955, 1957, 1958,1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963,1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969,
          1970, 1971, 1980

          NHL First All-Star Team 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1957,1958, 1960, 1963, 1966, 1968,1969, 1970

          NHL Second All-Star Team 1949, 1950, 1956, 1959, 1961,1962, 1965, 1967

          Stanley Cup 1950, 1952, 1954, 1955

          • Spydyr


            Most NHL regular season games played: 1,767[75]
            Most NHL regular season games played with a single team: 1,687[75]
            Most NHL and WHA regular season games played: 2,186
            Most NHL and WHA regular season and playoff games played: 2,421
            Most NHL and WHA Goals regular season 975
            Most NHL seasons played: 26 (tied with Chris Chelios)[75]
            Most NHL and WHA seasons played: 32
            Most NHL regular season goals by a right winger: 801
            Most NHL regular season points by a father/son combo (with son Mark): 2,592
            Most consecutive NHL 20-goal seasons: 22 (1949–1971)
            First player to score over 1000 goals (WHA and NHL, regular season and playoff combined)
            First player to reach 1,500 games played in NHL history.
            Most times leading NHL playoffs in scoring (six times)
            Oldest player to play in NHL: 52 years, 11 days (no other player has played past the age of 48)
            First in Red Wings history in points, goals and games played, second in assists
            Most NHL All-Star Game appearances: 23

      • OilersGM

        Ovechkin is the best goal scorer of all time and I’m talking about just scoring goals maybe Bossy would have been if he played enough games but Ovechkin for that reason alone is a generational talent.

      • HOCKEY83

        don’t insult Gretzky and Lemieux by lumping them in with Crosby amd McDavid. The latter may be generational but Gretzky and Lemieux are historical. There will never be an NHL player anywhere near as good as either of them not in this lifetime or the next.

      • OilersGM

        If you had to start a team today and any of these 5, Orr, Lemieux, Gretzky, Crosby or McDavid were active players all at the same time in their prime who would you take for me it’s not even close McDavid head and shoulders above everyone. What McDavid can do with the puck and the speed, no one has ever seen before. Don’t take into count the players previous acylates just based on the skill they posses?

        • HOCKEY83

          Then you would lose. Take of you oiler colored glasses. Obviously you are a child and have never seen Gretzky or Lemieux play. The league will never see anything like that in the history of the NHL every again. Even Jagr in his prime is better than McDavid. Just because Mcdavid is the best generational player since Crosby doesn’t mean he’s the best there ever was…nowhere near.

  • ubermiguel

    I’ve always thought Crosby might see the ice better, play better without the puck and have a slightly higher hockey IQ, whereas McDavid has unmatched speed and puck control. McDavid regularly does things with the puck on his stick that I can only compare to Bure or Lemieux.

  • TKB2677

    Pretty comparable numbers especially if you consider how scoring overall is down in the McDavid era compared to Crosby. When Crosby hit 100 pts, there was 7 with 100 or better each year. McDavid was the only only last year and there were only 3 this year.

  • Peksisarvinen

    It’s freakin’ sad to see people think there’s nothing more to hockey than points. What, the best defenseman of all time, Nicklas Lidström (and no, Orr is not better than Lidström), is not a generational talent because he wasn’t heralded as such by the Canadian media since he was 6 years old?

    • 18% body fat

      because orr was the best player when he was in the league, Lidstrom was not, even if you think Lidstom was the best defenceman of all time. Lemiuex and Crosby were the Generational players while he was playing.

    • Leaking5w-30

      Lindsrom was a great player but look at the teams he was on. 9 hof players on the 2002 cup team. It’s hard to separate his individual contributions when sourrounded byvhat much talent

    • ubermiguel

      Lidstrom played the perfect game as a defenceman game-in-game out, he was machine like in his consistency, but Orr changed how people saw the position and the game. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge Lidstrom fan. I see Bobby Orr like Jimi Hendrix; yeah, Hendrix has been technically surpassed by many others but he changed how people played and viewed the instrument.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    Pretty amazing how the universe works. It is oh-so-cyclical.

    Thirty years ago, I remember all the debates focusing on if/how/when a Penguins superstar (Mario Lemieux) would overtake an Oilers superstar (#99). Back then, most of us Oilers fans scoffed at the notion Mario was taking over. But the worm started to turn in the 1987-88 season, whether we liked it or not.

    The Canada Cup in the fall of 1987 was the first sign that something “generational” was about to happen. Gretzky-to-Lemieux wasn’t only on the scoresheets. It was a harbinger.

    By November, Gretzky’s buddy, Paul Coffey had been traded to Pittsburgh and fit in right away. Meanwhile in Edmonton, Gretz hurt his knee and missed 20 games or so. That basically handed the scoring race to Mario and although he did his level-best to try to get the Penguins into the playoffs, he fell short. Hockey writers had seen enough to hand the Hart Trophy to Mario (breaking Gretzky’s eight-year stranglehold on it), but that came a few weeks after 99 won the Conn Smythe on the way to his last Cup in Edmonton. And we all remember what happened later that summer.

    Both franchises ebbed and flowed in the decades since, and here we are. Young lion, old lion – this time, the other way around. The worm probably hasn’t turned yet – at least not in the same way it did over an eight-month period 30 years ago, but it’s coming. This is going to be fun, Oiler fans. Don’t lose sight of that.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    The pp stats between 97 and 87 blew my mind a bit. I wonder what McDavids point total so far would be if he shot more a couple years ago and if the pp was better last year. I’d bet he’d have more points than Crosby after his first 3 years. Here’s to a healthy 97 over the next 8years!

  • GK1980

    I argue with a guy at work all the time. You stick McDavid one on one with any of the best players in the league ever. Gretzky, Orr ect. Connor would light them up. His combination of speed and skill has never been seen at his level. Ever. He is truly special.

    One on one against Crosby McDavid would win hands down.

    • Redbird62

      But the game is not played one on one nor is it a skills competition. It is a team game played with anywhere between 8 to 12 players on the ice. And the best players are the ones who help their team outscore the opponents team while they are on the ice which can lead to wins if the other lines at least hold their own. Gretzky’s thinking of the game is way more relevant in that context than in a one on one battle.

      I think Connor McDavid is currently the best or second best player in the league, and has the potential to be one of the all time greats and maybe the best, but he is not there yet. And my preference is to judge all time greats generally by how much they outshone their contemporaries, as changes in nutrition, training and equipment make direct comparisons of speed and strength unfair.

    • ubermiguel

      Yes and no. Give Gretzky, Orr, etc today’s conditioning, training and equipment and they would be on par. Orr with today’s orthopedic surgeons would have several extra years to collect accolades. Still, it blows my mind it’s only 3 years into McDavid’s career and we already have to compare him to hall of famers.

    • OilersGM

      100% accurate GK1980 and two years McDavid absolutely dominated Crosby so bad that coach Sullivan changed the match up. Even though the Oilers lost both games 1 in overtime, head to head McDavid destroyed Crosby and left him in the dust and I’m sure he would have done the same to all the other great players.

  • People don’t talk about McDavid’s even-strength scoring enough. Sure, he’s behind Crosby in overall scoring after three seasons, but McDavid blows him (and everyone else) out of the water at even strength.

    Imagine what McDavid’s numbers would look like if Edmonton had competent special teams?

  • Burnward

    McDavid is too good. Crosby’s excellence is driven by effort, intelligence and most hockey players will strive to meet this.

    McDavid just embarrasses you every time he steps on the ice. Leads you to say, “just do it yourself then.” He’ll be Mike Trout forever in Edmonton.

  • D

    Just my opinion. Howe, Orr, Gretzky, Lemieux, Crosby, McDavid. Those are the generational players. Sorry Leafs, nobody on your roster now or in the past comes even close.

  • heyrayray

    Ovechkin is a generational talent no question. Scoring goals is the very hardest thing to do in the nhl and Ovechkin might be the very best goal scorer to play hockey ever.

  • jfk11

    Crosby enters the NHL with very few if not ZERO dominant players left in game. McDavid enters the NHL with Malkin, Kane, Crosby, OV, Letang, etc etc all playing at their absolute best hockey of their careers.

    Crosby enters the NHL with a brand new set of rules just for his arrival. D-Men and players around the league were forced to learn an entirely new way to defend. The result was the worst hockey played during the first several years of the new rule era.

    McDavid enters the NHL with D men and checkers accustomed to the new rules. As an 18 year old kid McDavid made other stars in the league such as Crosby, Malkin and Kane look like average players by comparison.

    McDavid is arguably playing in pre-lock out rules with his own personal shadow (aka 99) interfering with him all over the ice.

    This is a silly comparison.

  • oilredemption


    2 other notables that I might include for their generational talents
    Ovechkin for scoring and Lindros for his physical dominance.

    • IRONman

      97 is not 25 years old. Nhl players mostly peak at 25 yo. Look up 99,87 ect. 97 is just getting warmed up. Nuge and McDavid look great last few games of 2018

      • crabman

        Offensively gifted players tend to hit their prime earlier. I would argue McDavid is already in prime. I’m not saying he has already had his best offensive season he will ever have but is already a multiole Ted Lindsey, and Art Ross winner and has won a Hart. He will continue to round out his game but he is already in his prime.
        Crosby’s best offensive season was as a 19 year old. Gretzky scored 212 points, just 3 off his record, when he was 20/21. I doubt anyone would say they didn’t hit thier prime until they were 25.

  • jfk11

    Crosby should not be ant list that includes Orr or Gretzy. He should no way be in a top ten list. IMO he is the most over rated superstar of all time. He is the only power forward allowed to skate around virtually untouched due to the new rules when he arrived. The officiating with Crosby and the Pens has been absurd. They changed all the rules upon his arrival. The league used the Pens as their staple franchise of how you go from struggling team to Cup contenders. Crosby was Bettmans poster child for the new rules. There were no domantnat players left in the game when Crosby entered. Men were forced to learn an entirely new way of defending.

    McDavid enters the NHL as mentioned previously, with Malkin, OV, Crosby, Kane and on and on all plying at their absolute best and McDavid enters the league as kid and donated like we have never seen since 99 himself. McDavid doesn’t reeve any of the absurd officiating help that Crosby got entering the league. And you don’t see McDavid throwing a tantrum any time someone attempts to check him.
    McDavid is on a whole other level than Crosby or Malkin or insert Penguin here.

  • jfk11

    Crosby should not be ant list that includes Orr or Gretzy. He should no way be in a top ten list. IMO he is the most over rated superstar of all time. He is the only power forward in the history of the sport allowed to skate around virtually untouched due to the new rules when he arrived. The officiating with Crosby and the Pens has been absurd. The league used the Pens as their staple franchise of how you go from struggling team to Cup contenders. Crosby was Bettmans poster child for the new rules.

    McDavid enters the NHL as mentioned previously, with Malkin, OV, Crosby, Kane and on and on all plying at their absolute best and 97 enters the league as kid and dominates like we have never seen since 99 himself. McDavid doesn’t receive any of the absurd officiating help that Crosby has relied upon since entering the league. And you don’t see McDavid throwing a tantrum any time someone attempts to interfere or check him.
    McDavid is on a whole other level than Crosby or Malkin or insert Penguin here.

    • jfk11

      Ok is far more than a generational goal scorer. He finally had the team and coaching staff around him to compete with a team like the Pens. Ov is also one of the most fierce physical players to ever play the game – he can change a game in many different ways. Given the same team and same coaching stafff I would choose OV any day over Sid who has the most loaded team in the salary cap era where teams aren’t supposed to be loaded with super star players.

  • Nick Khron

    “Crosby and McDavid are the true craftsmen of this NHL era, that’s for sure so let’s just enjoy the ride while it lasts, without debating the labels.“
    Sooooo…. let’s not write the article? Oh, the off-season must be tough for sports writers.