Photo credit:Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Follow the Leader
5 months ago
To understate, players with the level of skill we’ve seen first-hand from Connor McDavid over the years don’t come along very often. Factor in a competitive streak and desire to win that just won’t quit and you get what we’re seeing from the Edmonton Oilers’ captain as summer slowly gives way to autumn.
Having summoned his teammates to begin skating two weeks before training camp begins, McDavid — hands-down the best player on the planet because he’s equal parts sick talent and fire-in-the-gut — sounds ready to get after it. McDavid met with the assembled media Wednesday to pitch the next edition of the Heritage Classic, but it was obvious there was more on his mind.
Bounced from the post-season by the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference final two seasons ago and eliminated in the second round by the Vegas Golden Knights last spring in a series they could have won, McDavid and his teammates watched both teams go on to sip suds from the Stanley Cup.
Eight years into his tenure with the Oilers and coming off career-highs for goals, assists and points with 64-89-153 during a season in which he again won the Hart Memorial Trophy, the Ted Lindsay Award, the Art Ross Trophy and his first Rocket Richard Trophy, McDavid still doesn’t have the silverware he desires most. So, he’s back at it early.
Apr 29, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) reacts during the second period in game six of the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Crypto.com Arena.
“I think it says a lot about where our group’s at,” McDavid said of being back on the ice Tuesday without any of the team’s coaching staff involved. “Everybody’s dialled in, everybody’s super motivated, everybody’s determined and everybody’s in it together. I think that’s kind of the message that I’ve been feeling, at least just by guys wanting to come back and make sure we’re all together for a couple of weeks.”
With the Oilers two years into win-now mode, but with nothing to show for it but back-to-back seasons of 104 and 109, there’s still work to do. While it can be reasonably argued that the Oilers were outclassed by a superior team in the 2022 sweep at the hands of the powerhouse Avalanche, they didn’t play well enough against a beatable team in the Golden Knights.
“Eventually time heals all, but it’s something you don’t forget about ever,” McDavid told Oilers Now host Bob Stauffer. “I think you can see it just being around the rink, just seeing how many guys are back. Everybody looks great, everybody is hungry to get this thing going. I think that’s because of the way last season ended, obviously.
“It’s something you use to motivate you. You learn from those little mistakes that cost us big in a really tight series. Ultimately, that’s what it is in the playoffs. It’s tight – tight games, tight series. It’s little things that make all the difference. With that being said, it’s a lot of work and a long way to get back to the same situation.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
When your most talented player is your hardest working and most competitive player, as is the case with McDavid, and you surround him with the likes of Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman, Evander Kane, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Darnell Nurse, and Mattias Ekholm, to name just six, you’ve got a chance to contend for a Stanley Cup.
The Oilers have flirted with Cup contention for a couple of seasons. We can debate how far down that road they actually are, but they are on it. Of course, that in itself, as we’ve seen first-hand and as McDavid knows, guarantees nothing. At the very least, following McDavid’s lead gives the Oilers a chance.
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