On any given day, Connor McDavid is the most dominant player in the NHL. We all know what the 23-year-old can do on the ice. Usually, by the time his opponents realize what’s happening, McDavid is nothing less than a blur of orange and blue halfway down the ice.
While his frequent linemate Leon Draisaitl was just nominated for the Hart trophy, McDavid’s season was no less impressive. In 64 games, McDavid put up 97 points, second in the league only to Draisaitl. The two spent the first of the season playing alongside one another. Unlike Draisailt, McDavid didn’t spend the second half of the season alongside gifted scorers.
After Dave Tippett shuffled the lines at the beginning of 2020, Draisaitl was placed with Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. McDavid played alongside a rotating cast of wingers that included players Josh Archibald, James Neal and Tyler Ennis. While those players who lined up with their captain all have their qualities, none are massive point-getters. Which makes McDavid’s 1.47 PPG pace during the second half even more impressive.
So now with the Oilers gearing up for the play-in round in August, McDavid is going in with a new tool in the toolbox, one that he hasn’t had in over a year; Rest.
According to his Oilers teammates, McDavid took the past couple months to train at full health, and apparently he’s gotten even better somehow. In case you needed a reminder of how good McDavid was during the season, here’s a highlight tape of his goals from the regular season.
Now, if the tales of McDavid’s training and improvements aren’t exaggerated, we might see McDavid hit a gear we’ve never seen in the NHL. If I’m an opposing coach, the following quote from Riley Sheahan from an article on NHL.com should worry me. “Connor, there is a reason why he’s the best player in the world,” Oilers forward Riley Sheahan said. “It almost looked like he gained a step this whole time.”
McDavid is basically undefinable. So when the Oilers take on the Blackhawks in the play-in round, it’s likely he’ll line up against one of the best two-way forwards of the past decade, Jonathan Toews. While Toews maybe isn’t firing at the same pace he was during the ‘Hawks dynasty in the mid-2010s, he’s still a formidable opponent.
In the regular season, the Oilers and Blackhawks played three times. losing two and winning one. In the play-in round, even with Toews drawing the unenviable task of covering McDavid, the former league MVP will get lots of chances to expose Chicago’s subpar defence. Duncan Keith and Calvin De Haan are solid enough, but that might not be good enough against McDavid, and to be fair to them, there’s maybe a handful of defenders in the world who can.
Against Chicago, expect to see a lot of breakout passes to McDavid as he flys through the neutral at a speed that’s almost become normal to watch despite its sheer insanity.
In the playoffs
Take everything I said about McDavid’s impact in this play-in series, now intensify that. Chicago isn’t a strong team this year. If Edmonton beats them they’ll likely face tougher competition than the Hawks. Teams will continue to narrow in on McDavid to try to stifle him offensively and trap him in his own end. McDavid can have success despite this type of on-ice scrutiny if the rest of the team can at least produce a slightly higher percentage of the offence than they did during the regular season.
Last time McDavid was in the playoffs in 2017, that’s exactly what happened. The Anaheim Ducks managed to slow him down a step, and that was enough to bring the whole team to a screeching halt.
McDavid is the lifeblood of this team and has carried such a heavy burden for his entire career. If guys like James Neal, Nugent-Hopkins, Kassian, Ennis and Athanasiou can produce, McDavid will be given slightly more room on the ice. And knowing what we do about how little space the Oilers captain needs, slightly more room is all he needs to help bring his team to a deep playoff run.