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