I’ve met a lot of players over the years who talk a great game. They enjoy the microphone, the scrum, the attention. That’s where they shine. There’s nothing wrong with that. Win or lose, they are the go-to guys for those toting notepads and cameras and looking for a juicy quote. I miss Janne Niinimaa. Gold.
Then, there are those guys who play a great game but would much rather let their actions on the ice speak for them. That’s where they shine. Getting anything any good out of them is like pulling teeth. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. They’d rather show you than tell you what they’re about. Edmonton Oilers’ captain Connor McDavid, the best player on the planet today, is one of those guys.
We saw an example of that again Monday as McDavid scored two goals in the first 4:05 of Game 2 against the Chicago Blackhawks on the way to a hat-trick in a 6-3 win. It was a dazzling display that came on the heels of a profoundly bad take by Denver-based scribe Adrian Dater in the wake of a 6-4 loss to the Blackhawks in the first game of the play-in series. You could see this one coming.
Dater, a veteran writer who should know better, commented on Twitter: “Regretting my Oilers pick over Chicago. Connor McDavid a brilliant talent, but a personality-deficient guy. I think his blandness rubs off too much on teammates. Happy to hear opinions to the contrary, but fact is he doesn’t inspire others.” Well, as you’d expect, Dater heard contrary from a lot of Oilers’ fans. McDavid, meanwhile, said nothing, at least publicly, then went out and lit up the Blackhawks.
ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER
July 28, 2020; Edmonton, Alberta, CANADA; Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates with teammates on the bench after scoring a goal during the first period of an exhibition game against the Calgary Flames prior to the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on July 28, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta. Mandatory Credit: Andy Devlin/NHLI via USA TODAY Sports
“When your captain does it, the rest of your team knows that’s your leader and follows suit,” coach Dave Tippett said after Monday’s win. Connor’s not a big rah-rah guy but he inspires players by how he plays. Last night he certainly led the way for us.” McDavid’s second goal, backhand shelf over Corey Crawford after waltzing past Olli Maata, was a thing of beauty.
“The thing that amazes me is the speed that he’s going when he’s doing that,” Tippett said. “Connor does those things at high, high speed and that’s what catches players. To make a shot like that when you’re going that speed and the puck has been bouncing around, that’s elite talent. That’s what Connor has.”
Trying to read anything into a player’s personality or character based on how he handles interviews, as Dater did, is a sure-fire way to look bad. Even writers who travel with a team for years don’t get an accurate lead on what a player is like based on that. We aren’t behind closed doors. We don’t see how players interact with teammates when the scrums are done. Watch McDavid play and you know he is all-in. There’s no doubt. None. He’s a leader. So were Ryan Smyth and Jason Smith, neither one of them great talkers.
Dater, at least, gave himself a pretty good shot on Twitter after seeing McDavid shred the Blackhawks Monday. I’ll give him credit for that:
WHILE I’M AT IT
When you get to be old as dirt like I am, you get reminded often how time flies. Got together with pal Iain MacIntyre, who writes for Sportsnet in Vancouver, for lunch yesterday. He’s here covering the Canucks. Mac called me a geezer. I called him pencil neck, just like old times.
We spent two years writing together and paying our dues at the Kamloops Daily News. I got there in 1985 and he came along in 1987 before I went to the Edmonton Journal and he found his way to the Vancouver Sun. James Neal is the only player on the Oiler roster who was even born in 1987.
- Some great snippets from Neal in the Players’ Tribune here.
Previously by Robin Brownlee