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Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

GDB 1.0: Head-to-Head Hart Winners (11am MT, Sportsnet)

Three years ago Connor McDavid chose to live with Taylor Hall during McDavid’s rookie season in Edmonton. Both were #1 overall picks, and McDavid felt comfortable residing with Hall and Luke Gazdic. Gazdic did most of the cooking, and the trio got to know each other off and on the ice.

Nine months later Hall was traded to the New Jersey Devils.
Twelve months later McDavid won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player.
Then twelve months after that, Hall won the Hart trophy.
Things can change quickly in the NHL.

McDavid and the Oilers made the playoffs in 2017, but plummeted down the standings last season.

Hall and his Devils struggled in 2017, but rebounded with a playoff berth last year. Hall was openly upset about the trade, but as in most cases, time heals all wounds and he has moved on and is enjoying his time in New Jersey. McDavid was very frustrated last April, due to missing the playoffs, not the trade, but he too is excited and optimistic the Oilers will be better this year.

Some will argue Hall wouldn’t have won the Hart if he played in Edmonton, and there probably is truth to that, but he had been a point-a-game player twice in Edmonton before scoring 93 points last season. He could drive a line, and of course, so can McDavid, at an even higher rate. Many will wonder what could have been had Hall stayed and played on a line with Leon Draisaitl, while McDavid was flanked by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

No one will know how it would have played out, but those four would have created a lot of excitement.

Hall and McDavid are still creating excitement, just on different teams, and they will faceoff tonight in Sweden (this morning in Edmonton).

If McDavid wins the Hart this season he’ll become the sixth player to win the Hart, lose it, and win it again the following season.

Eddie Shore won it in 1933, Aurele Joliat won in 1934 and then Shore won it again in 1935. Shore also won it in 1936 and 1938 with Babe Siebert winning in 1937.
Gordie Howe won in 1958 and 1960, with Andy Bathgate winning it in between.
Bobby Clarke won in 1973 and 1975 while Phil Esposito took home the hardware in 1974.
Wayne Gretzky won in 1987 and 1989 with Mario Lemieux winning in 1988.
And Mark Messier won in 1990 and 1992 with the Oilers and Rangers respectively, while Brett Hull won it in 1991.

McDavid is stronger. He looks quicker and many are expecting big things from him. Hall is in the same boat.

Neither team is a lock to make the playoffs, but both clubs are confident they can return to the postseason and their quest begins today.

LINEUP…

Oilers

RNH-McDavid-Rattie
Lucic-Draisaitl-Yamamoto
Khaira-Strome-Puljujarvi
Reider-Brodziak-Kassian

Klefbom-Larsson
Nurse-Benning
Russell-Bouchard

Talbot

The Oilers sent Ethan Bear to the minors to activate Kris Russell. I think Bear has outplayed Evan Bouchard, but if the Oilers reassign Bouchard they can’t recall him from junior, whereas Bear can be sent down, and recalled once they send Bouchard to junior. I don’t love this plan, and while I understand why they did it, I’d rather play the players who are playing the best. For me, Bear is better defensively, which isn’t a surprise considering he is older and more experienced. The gap isn’t huge, but I have seen one. I expect Bouchard to be back in junior before he plays ten games, so this isn’t a big deal, but I believe Bear played well enough to be in the opening night lineup.

I’ll be curious to see how long Yamamoto and Rieder stay on their respective lines. After a slow start to preseason, Rieder has looked very good the past three games and I won’t be surprised if he moves up.

Devils

Hall-Hischier-Palmieri
Johansson-Zacha-Noesen
Wood-Zajac-Quenneville
Boyle-Coleman-Dea

Mueller-Vatanen
Greene-Severson
Butcher-Lovejoy

Kinkaid

Jesper Bratt took a puck in the face on Thursday and is out with a broken jaw. Edmonton product John Quenneville will play his 15th NHL game. He played 12 in 2017 and two last season. The 30th pick in 2014 hasn’t been a regular yet, because of his conditioning, or lack thereof, not his skill. “John is a very strong prospect,” said Devils head coach John Hynes. “He is extremely competitive with good hockey sense, but the thing that’s held him back was his conditioning. If he wasn’t going to be in top physical shape, he wasn’t giving himself a chance to make the team. He’s had to learn what it takes to be a pro and credit to him for taking our advice.” said Hynes.

Quenneville came to camp in the best shape of his young career and he’s earned himself a spot in the opening night lineup. Good for him.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…

From NorthJersey.com

Hall willed the Devils to the playoffs last season so it’s tough to imagine how much better a 39-goal scorer could get, but coming into camp he said his shot had improved as well as his release.

This will no doubt be an emotional meeting for Hall, who once harbored resentment for the Oilers after he was traded for defenseman Adam Larsson. But the one-for-one trade changed the course of the Devils and the winger has now let go of his anger and moved on to embrace his life and the culture of the club in New Jersey.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers open the season with a rare road victory, only the fourth in franchise history, and they defeat the Devils 4-2.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid scores his first career goal v. the Devils. He has eight assists in five games, but pots his first goal tonight.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oscar Klefbom has never scored in his first game of a new season, but he loves playing the Devils. He has three goals and five points in six career games. Klefbom is fired up to play in his home country and scores his first goal of the season. His first goal of last season, in game #12, also came against the Devils.