Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
23 days ago
Connor McDavid had already won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer three times, the Ted Lindsay Award as most outstanding player three times and the Hart Memorial Trophy as league MVP twice entering the 2022-23 season, his eighth with the Edmonton Oilers.
Being eight years deep into what will be a HHOF career and still looking for ways to improve his game in pursuit of a first Stanley Cup, says a lot about how driven the 26-year-old from Richmond Hill is. It turns out McDavid looked around and decided that with a little work, he could become more of a goal-scorer, so that’s what he set out to do this season.
Jump ahead to today and McDavid hasn’t just surpassed his previous best of 44 goals, he’s turned the Rocket Richard Trophy race into a one-man show going into Thursday’s game with the Boston Bruins. McDavid has 54 goals. He’s 10 ahead of runner-up David Pastrnak of the Bruins. With 54-70-124, McDavid is primed to be the NHL’s first Triple Crown winner – leader in goals, assists and points – since Mario Lemieux did it in 1995-96.
After studying opponents, like Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs to name one, who earn their pay putting the puck in the net, McDavid is shooting more, particularly from in the slot, through traffic and in 2-on-1 situations. Simply put, he’s more of a shoot-first guy than he’s ever been. He’s averaging 4.43 shots per game and has a shooting percentage of 18.8 – both represent career highs.
“I see a player who consistently tries to add layers to his game,” coach Jay Woodcroft told Ryan Rishaug of TSN in a piece he just did about McDavid’s goal-scoring prowess. “He’s doing whatever he can to help this team win.” Given how McDavid has been tearing it up, that’s a lesson in understatement. For full context, Rishaug’s full report is here.
A SHOOTER NOW
Feb 23, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) celebrates with the Oilers bench after scoring a goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period at PPG Paints Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
There’s been plenty said and written about the dominant season McDavid is putting together. Like I said off the top, McDavid is 10 goals up in the scoring race. Going into Beantown, he’s four ahead of Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov in assists with 70 and his 124 points has him a whopping 28 ahead of teammate and runner-up Leon Draisaitl. All of that noted, it’s McDavid’s goal total that has everybody talking.
“I was just never a great finisher,” McDavid told Rishaug. “Like anything, parts of your game evolve and I definitely feel like I’m a better finisher now than I’ve ever been.
“Obviously when somebody scores 60 they’re doing something right, so I watched a little bit of Auston and how he scores. You know, Sid (Crosby) scores his goals different ways, always kind of around the net. I kind of used to score goals having to beat guys and do all that. I’m trying to find a way to be around the net a little bit more and shoot the puck a little bit more and be dangerous from different areas . . . when I first got in the league if I got a 2-on-1 it was almost 100 per cent a pass.”
McDavid still puts opponents on their heels with his speed off the rush, but when he backs defenders off, he uses them as screens more often than he used to. He’s getting more prime shots from the slot. While that has resulted in fewer highlight reel goals where he walks two or three defenders, the goal total speaks for itself.
THE BOTTOM LINE
With 17 games remaining, the 60-goal plateau looks like a lock for McDavid, barring injury. I’m not sure that he can get to 70 goals as some think possible, but it’s not unreasonable to think he can get to 65. The last player to score that many was Alex Ovechkin with 65 in 2007-08. The last Oiler to reach 65 goals was Jari Kurri, who finished with 68 in 1985-86.
Down the road, I wonder how many Rockets McDavid might finish his career with now that 2022-23 edition is all but in his trophy case. First things first.
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