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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Connor McDavid is playing an unprecedented amount for a forward

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

GF GA GF%
With 97 81 61 57.04
Without 97 82 115 41.62

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.

  • El Oilero

    What else are they suppose to do?
    Subtract McD and the Oilers are the worst team in the NHL. PC has destroyed the rebuild and ran out of money in the process.

    Fire PC!!!

  • E-Mac

    He’s young, in incredible shape and is a smart enough player to consume energy where needed. I am not the least bit worried. Todd needs to play him as much as possible.

    Fatigued for the playoffs is better than no playoffs at all. And for what it’s worth I argue a “fatigued” Connor at say 75% is still better than most of the league.

  • Peksisarvinen

    This is your daily reminder that Peter Chiarelli and Kevin Lowe, the two masterminds behind the team, and whose biggest accomplishment was getting a ridiculously lucky draw in the 2015 entry draft, are both STILL employed by Edmonton Oilers.

    Nowhere else would such consistent, mind-boggling incompetence go unpunished, but I guess the ticket and merch sales are still good enough for Katz and some of the more delusional fans to ignore it all.

  • Heschultzhescores

    I really think the “fatigue” this is way overplayed. I’m from the school, the more ice time I got the happier I was. It’s 24 minutes, 1 minute at a time with rest. Hardly a burnout number imo. Burnout is more likely mentally from losing. Show me a player that doesn’t want more ice time?

    • Peksisarvinen

      Yeah, you didn’t play in the NHL. Not exactly comparable. There is a reason why there’s exactly one forward in the top 40 of TOI/GP, and for why none of the other superstars in the league play more than 20, 21 minutes a game.

      • Peksisarvinen

        And as for wanting more ice time, all players do. It’s the job of the coaching staff to do what’s best for the player, because the players themselves would play 60 minutes of every game with busted knees, if nobody held them back. The same way it’s the job of the coaching staff to tell them what to eat. If left to their own devices, these young players would eat burgers every day.

        • Glencontrolurstik

          What’s wrong with burgers & steaks everyday???
          Millennials,… sheesh.
          My NHL we were encouraged to eat as many of these two things as we could handle. Google old images of Howe or Hull shirtless.
          They were ripped,… burgers & steaks… That was the diet, & bales of hay was the exercise… Google it,…

          • Peksisarvinen

            They weren’t ripped, or anywhere close to it. They had mass, but that’s about all they had. McDavid would skate circles around both Howe and Hull.

    • OilerForLife

      There was no reason why the Oilers weren’t better on the powerplay and this was part of the plan. Now other teams have to play most honest with the Oilers or pay the price.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    Mc Davis the driver of the team, there is no question about it, the guys is a machine. The other lines werent doing much but last nights game was guys on the other lines picking up their game Lucic was moving his feet, checking and the play wasn’t dying on his stick this is trending towards the Lucic we saw the first season he was here.. Cagguila after being in the pressbox was doing a lot better he was hitting he was skating he was making plays and he got better each game.

    The Oilers need other guys to keep on making prgress in their play, the defence was pretty good last night and that hasnt been the case in the first couple games, they were not letting the Bruins do a lot in our end ( minus the 1st period where the whole team didnt realise teh game was laready going in period two.

    If the Oilers can build on the last game, and other guys start contributing, it will take pressure off McDavid, McDavid has been lights out so far 11 points in 5 games aint too shabby, man if McDavid keeps this pace up he will beat last years point total and I honestly think he will anyways the guy is just that good

  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Gretzky played in the pre-clock era and we can’t be sure what he averaged a night but we do know that he never wanted to be off the ice and he regularly played a 1:30 pp shift as well as killing penalties. That didn’t seem to be a real drag on his winning 4 Cups and 10 Art Ross trophies.
    McDavid might be up to the challenge. Nobody buys a Ferrari to keep it in the garage.

  • chuckcouples

    While I understand the point of the article, you should probably know what the word “unprecedented” means before using it in your headline. Pavel Bure played just under 27 minutes per game in 2000/2001 and there have been 15 other times where a forward has played more than 24 minutes per game during a full regular season since 1996.

    Unprecedented means never been done before yet you state right in your article that Kovalchuk played more than McDavid is playing in two different seasons.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    McDavid seems to know when to hold back and when to hit the gas. He’s playing a ton of minutes, but his legs aren’t going full bore every second of every shift because the dude can glide at a normal human’s top speed. I believe that intelligent energy conservation is one of the tools that allows McDavid to be McDavid.

  • Bills Bills

    What exactly was the problem with the 5X5 scoring last year? GF they were right in the middle of the pack. It was their GA 5X5 that was the issue. Play better defensive hockey and you will spend less time in your zone allowing for more 5X5 GF. It is pretty basic. The Oilers do not have a scoring depth issue. They have a commitment to the back side of the puck issue. They have a lack of defensive depth issue. The solution isn’t that tough and the roster does not need to change. They need to support their defence low in their own zone so they don’t have to make passes they are not capable of. Banging a puck off the boards and into the nuetral zone is not a smart defensive play. It is a desperate one. I am sick of watching it. But they need all players to buy into the system that supports the weak defence. So McDavid doesn’t need to play 24 min. So they can roll 4 lines and expect to have a solid game in their own end. Not what we have seen on most nights.

  • Old school

    An interesting article.. people forget that at one time the stars of the game routinely played 30 minutes or more – Howe and Hull were used on multiple lines and positions with Howe playing up to 44 minutes a game and taking occasional shifts on defence. While clearly the game has changed and become more specialized – coaches using superstars to carry the play and their teams on their backs is nothing new

  • Oliveoil77

    Pagnani your a pos. We just beat 2 of the top 5 teams in the league and you write this? To many Oiler fans concerned about the bs that is written about the oil from out east. It’s like circa 1982 when everyone out east was jealous we had 99. Get used to it oil country, nobody wants to see us win. It will be all the more enjoyable when we are the next Canadian team to bring home Lord Stanley.

    • Peksisarvinen

      If you think they’ll be bringing home anything but bitter disappointment with this team then you need to stop taking whatever it is you’re taking.

      It’s okay to be a fan of the team and still remain realistic, you know.

  • Thumby

    With today’s nutrition and training, they should be able to handle it better than ever. He’s smart and he can have more off days if he’s tired. After all, who is going to teach him anything anyway… Practice? WE’RE TALKING ABOUT PRACTICE… (channel your inner AI)!

  • Bills Bills

    As for McDavid, I have yet to see him look tired. He back checks at top speed at the end of the third and over time. That doesn’t say tired. Besides when you are 21 and a professional athlete, tired is a matter of a couple days of muscle recovery.

  • Prairiechicken

    Well. “Unprecedented” is what McDavid does best. He’s in a league of his own with skill, speed, smarts … and I believe stamina. So I’m ok with this.
    We just need to bring the stat of them being outscored 1-9 with him off the ice back to about neutral (I can’t believe it’s that slanted)

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    I think if anyone can handle it, McDavid can. He’s young and he gets trained by one of the smartest trainers around in Gary Roberts.

    I’d bet that McDavid has the the 4 anaerobic methods of training near their max potential.

  • Anton CP

    Kovalchuk was much older than McDavid when he played for the Devils, it may not be ideal to run McDavid with that many minutes but throughout the first five games that the Oilers did not have any cushion lead to let McDavid rest. Also, the Oilers played 2 OT games already that may have to do with added extra minutes. It is still way too early to talk about the usage of McDavid yet that you should wait at least 10 games in.