Connor McDavid on the ice gives the Oilers the best chance to win and Todd McLellan knows that. McDavid is averaging nearly 24 minutes a game, an unprecedented amount for a forward in the NHL. His 23:51 per game is identical to teammate Oscar Klefbom and just ahead of Roman Josi. Forward’s typically don’t play that much. Anze Kopitar is second to McDavid with 22:44 a night, a full minute behind the Oilers centre.
McDavid’s playing a ton of minutes, but he might have to if the Oilers want any chance at the postseason. Through five games, Edmonton has two goals without McDavid on the ice, and that includes a 3-on-3 goal from Darnell Nurse. It’s early, but they’ve been outscored 1-9 without McDavid 5-on-5. With McDavid, they’ve outscored teams 5-1.
McDavid’s averaging the most minutes for a forward since Ilya Kovalchuk in 2012-13. Kovalchuk was a beast. He routinely played 22 minutes a night and upped that to 24 minutes in his last two years in New Jersey. Kovalchuk’s Devils made the playoffs in one of those 24-minute seasons, losing to Los Angeles in the Stanley Cup Finals. Kovalchuk is the only forward to average over 23 minutes a game in a season since 2010.
It’s not surprising a coach on the hot seat is running his most effective player as much as possible. McDavid is the best player in the league and tilts the ice like no other. Can he play this much across an entire season? Star forwards play 22 minutes a season quite often. Kopitar, Aleksander Barkov, and Sean Couturier were all in that range in 2017-18. Patrick Kane, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Couturier are all over 22 minutes this season.
McDavid’s been around 21 minutes the past two seasons. Is another few minutes that big of a deal? Could it be the difference between a playoff spot and just missing out?
I’d be concerned about fatigue before the end of the season. McDavid’s averaging the most even strength time on ice since the turn of the century. He’s almost forty seconds ahead of Pavel Bure’s huge 2000-01 year with Florida, although there was no 3-on-3 back then and McDavid’s dominance in that format means he’ll play a bunch whenever possible.
McDavid’s usage might be necessary given the Oilers’ poor depth and questionable defence, especially if they keep getting crushed without McDavid 5-on-5. McLellan will want to limit the amount of lines two to four give back what McDavid creates, similar to 2017-18.
2017-18 Oilers 5-on-5
McDavid has a point on 11 of the Oilers’ 13 goals, 5-on-5 he’s been on the ice for five out of six goals. The Oilers were badly outscored without McDavid last year. With a lack of roster movement, their plan to improve 5-on-5 appears to be a bounce-back year for Cam Talbot and playing McDavid more than ever.
McDavid’s in uncharted territory. Kovalchuk ate up a ton of minutes for a forward, but even he wasn’t playing as much as McDavid is at even strength. Kane is next at 18:50 with Chicago, but no other forward is over 18 even-strength minutes per game.
I’ll be curious to see if McDavid sustains this amount of ice time all season. The Oilers don’t have a lot of offensive options and McDavid is arguably the best one in the game. McLellan’s upped his minutes and McDavid’s responded with by doing McDavid things. Maybe the cure for a lack of top-pairing defencemen is playing your superstar center like he’s a top-pairing defenceman.