‘It just kind of happened naturally:’ Connor McDavid, Oilers teammates reflect on his historic 100-assist season

Connor McDavid 100 Assists Edmonton Oilers
Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
20 days ago
For Connor McDavid, most milestones are nothing special.
Throughout his career, he’s always been ho-hum about hitting them, whether it was a goal plateau, point plateau, or virtually any of the other seemingly endless things he does on the ice often leaving observers speechless.
Monday night, when he set up Zach Hyman for a second-period goal against the San Jose Sharks, notching his 100th assist of the season, his tone was different. And understandably so, because it put him in a class three are in.
Throughout the NHL’s illustrious 107-year history, just three players had ever accomplished what he did. The first was Bobby Orr, who scored 102 assists in the 1970-71 season, his fifth in the league. It came in the middle of his legendary, cut-short-far-too-soon career and amid a run where he won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenceman a staggering eight times in a row.
Then it was Wayne Gretzky 10 years later when, at 20 years old and in his second full season of NHL play, he hit the mark. Gretzky would go on to do it 10 more times before his career was all said and done, and it’s needless to say just how incredible that is. Just one of his many untouchable records.
Mario Lemieux was the third person to do so when he notched 114 assists in the 1988-89 season. He would come close to doing it twice in 1995-96, scoring 92, but he also missed 12 games that season.
Then there’s Connor. 100 assists on the year. And much like Lemieux, he missed time, too, to the tune of five games this season. Yet, it was impossible to delay the inevitable.
And for McDavid, he said it was never anything he was thinking about earlier in the year.
“You know, it was never anything I set out and said, ‘I want to do that,'” he said Monday night. “It just kind of happened naturally.
“I had that weird stretch where I didn’t score any goals, but I had a bunch of assists. That’s kind of when I was made aware of it. It’s just a product of playing with some really good players and on a good team and putting in a lot of hard work.”
His tone after the game felt different than it had been on any of these occasions. As his head coach, Kris Knoblauch, said after the game, “He gets embarrassed if you flatter him with compliments.”
It’s almost as if this time around he understood the full weight of the achievement.
“It means a lot,” McDavid said of joining Orr, Gretzky and Lemieux. “Those three, obviously, are three of the greatest players to ever play, and to share a little something with them means a lot to me. I’m just thankful for my teammates, the staff here in Edmonton, the coaches and everything.”
While the goal was the ninth and final one of the game the Oilers would score, his teammates weren’t going to let him get away without having his moment to celebrate. The one who scored the goal, Zach Hyman, was the one who led McDavid to the handshake line at the bench.
“I don’t know if he was going or not, but I wanted to make sure he did,” Hyman said with a smile. “Even though it was the ninth goal, it doesn’t matter. That’s just a historic moment. That’s a milestone only three other guys have gotten to, and they’re hall-of-fame, once-in-a-lifetime players.
“To be in that company, is pretty cool and special and doesn’t happen often. I think he deserved to have his moment there, regardless of what the score was.”
Fans at Rogers Place stood for minutes after the goal, giving a much-deserved standing ovation for McDavid.
In his own words, it has been a weird year for the superstar. He entered this campaign off one in which he won his first Rocket Richard Trophy, not only breaking the 50 and 60 goal marks for the first time in his career but one where he set a career-high in points with 153. That in and of itself was another milestone he hit, becoming the sixth in history and the first since Lemieux in the 1995-96 season.
But this year, he and his teammates sputtered out of the game, going 2-9-1, leading to a coaching change. When that change was made, McDavid had just two goals, eight assists, and 10 points in his first 11 games of the year, further highlighting how impressive it is that he even hit 100.
He would go on to rack up 92 assists over his next 64 games, capping the milestone off on Monday night. It even included a “weird stretch” where, over 10 games in February, he wouldn’t score, instead piling up a staggering 21 assists.
“For Connor, there’s 100 plays he had to make that somebody had to score for him to get to that point,” Hyman said. “I think everybody is so thrilled to be a part of it and again, he’s a guy who doesn’t celebrate every milestone he hits, because he hits so many. This one is extra special. I think everyone was aware of it, and I think you could see everybody just really enjoy seeing him do it.”
While McDavid has shown his humility in the past, Knoblauch said that doesn’t mean he lacks the drive to be the best in the world.
“I’ve known Connor for a while, coaching him in junior and here, and it’s always been the same,” he said. “He’s always been very humble, wanting the attention to go to his teammates and don’t get me wrong, he likes the drive to be the best all the time, but he gets embarassed if you flatter him with compliments.
“He’d rather direct those to his teammates. Again, the team’s extremely happy for him and very proud of him.”
This milestone is another impressive one, no doubt, and arguably one that significantly elevates his status among the all-time greats. It’s also one that his common linemate, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said is “probably about the hardest one he’s accomplished.
“You can’t really be surprised with the things he does every year, but amazing accomplishment. Probably didn’t think it was possible for it to happen in this day and age, but he keeps surprising. Amazing accomplishment, I’m very proud of him.”
Now, McDavid hopes it can turn into something even more and that this momentum can be carried into the playoffs.
“I feel very grateful for our staff here in Edmonton, and our players here,” he reiterated. “It’s been a different type of year, but everyone has stuck with it and we’ve put ourselves in a good position heading into when it matters most.”

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@thenationnetwork.com.

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