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The resurgence of Connor McDavid

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Photo credit:© Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Sunil Agnihotri
1 month ago
With Connor McDavid back to playing at the levels we expected him to be at, I thought it’d be worth revisiting an article I wrote in mid-November when the captain’s season was off to a rocky start.
It was published after McDavid’s tenth game of the year (and the Oilers 12th), at which point he had only scored one goal and collected three assists at even-strength (5v5). Three of his points were before the injury he sustained in the fifth game of the season against Winnipeg. After missing only two games, re-joining the club, and scoring a point at the NHL’s outdoor game against Calgary, he didn’t get a single even-strength point in the next four straight games. His rate of 1.51 points per hour after his first ten games was well below his rate from the last three seasons (2.90 per hour) and in the range of what you would expect from a third-line forward. With his individual rate of shots-on-goal down by 34 percent to 6.04 per hour and his shooting percentage rate down by 53 percent to 6.25 percent – it was clear McDavid was nowhere close to good health.
McDavid’s even-strength struggles continued for another week and a half, as he put up only three even-strength points in the next six games, but then he did gradually round out into form. He had his four-point night against Anaheim on November 26th, building off the five-point game a couple of nights earlier against Washington, although most of his points against the Capitals were on the powerplay.
Since his tenth game of the season, McDavid went on to put up 24 even-strength points in the next 23 games. And he currently sits third in the league with 28 even-strength points – only behind Nathan MacKinnon (31 points) and Nikita Kucherov (29 points). McDavid’s current full-season rate of 3.21 points per hour is currently the highest among all top six forwards (226 players who have played at least 400 minutes this season).
To get a sense of his recovery from his early-season issues, below is McDavid’s point production per hour over the course of the season. Please note that the points per hour are not by game but are cumulative based on the point-in-time of the season. For example, after the Oilers’ 25th game of the year, McDavid had posted a rate of 2.97 points per hour at that point of the season. I’ve also added a blue line which represents McDavid’s rate of points per hour from the last three seasons (2.90)
 
One thing worth noting is that while McDavid’s individual shooting percentage has improved to 13.79 percent, which is right around where he’s been the last three seasons (13.39 percent), his individual rate of shots is still currently lower than what we would expect it to be. Over the last three seasons, McDavid posted 9.15 shots per hour, but this season, he’s only at 6.65 shots per hour. It’s wild to think that even after this much progress from McDavid in the last month of the season, he’s still underperforming based on his career levels. It’s probably safe to assume his rate of shots will improve. And if he can maintain good health and his career-level shooting percentage, which he’s pretty much at right now, it should propel him past the others in the league-wide scoring race.
The other factor in all of this has been McDavid’s ability to drive play generate chances again, and help tilt the ice in the Oilers’ favour. With him on the ice, the Oilers have historically seen an increase in their share of expected goals (which factors in shot type and location to determine the probability of shots becoming goals), which isn’t at all surprising considering his talent level. But that wasn’t the case early on in the season. After his first ten games, the Oilers were posting an expected goal-share of 52.22 percent with McDavid on the ice and actually saw an increase of 8.29 without him on the ice. That’s the opposite of what’s happened in the last three seasons where McDavid’s on-ice numbers were consistently well ahead of his teammates. Between 2020 and 2023, the Oilers posted an expected goal share of 58.34 percent with McDavid on the ice, which was 9.41 higher than what the team posted without him on the ice.
Below is the Oilers’ share of expected goals at even-strength over the course of this season, with one line representing their time with McDavid on the ice and a separate line representing their time without McDavid on the ice. Similar to the graph above, it’s a cumulative total based on the point-in-time of the season and does not represent the team’s expected goal-share by game.
 
Since those early-season struggles, McDavid’s on-ice expected goal share has significantly improved and aligns closer with what we’ve seen from him in the past. The turning point for McDavid appears to be in late November right before the Oilers were off for six days. Since then, the team has once again been performing much better with him than without him, and at a level that indicates that the results should continue being very positive.
It’s definitely been a relief to see McDavid back to his superhuman levels, especially with a wildcard playoff spot within reach for the Oilers. His performance and lack of production at even strength in October and November contributed to the team’s poor start, along with the goaltending and other roster construction issues that are still waiting to be addressed. It’s unfortunate that he had to play through his ailments, but it was a good reminder of his importance to the team’s success and championship aspirations.
Data: Natural Stat Trick

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