For the first time in almost a decade, the NHL’s top player is up for debate. Sidney Crosby has been the face of the NHL and the hands down – best player in the league when healthy for the past 10 years. His competition however, is getting steadier. At only 20 years old, Connor McDavid has thrust himself into the conversation of the NHL’s best player in just 2 seasons of pro hockey.
McDavid was drafted 1st overall in the 2015 NHL entry draft and since has been on a mission. Over his first two NHL seasons, McDavid has a whopping 148 points in just 127 games. The only player with a better PPG over that span is 28 year-old, Patrick Kane. McDavid’s points do not just look good for him but for the entire Oilers organization. The Oilers have became infamous for almost always having the No.1 overall selection in the NHL entry draft, but no player drafted before McDavid, has yielded results like him. 2017 was the first time the Oilers had played a playoff game since reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006 and McDavid has become the main cog.
Though many would make the case that Crosby – coming off his third Stanley Cup victory – would be the favourite, McDavid is chasing him down quickly. The competition between McDavid and Crosby will be in full swing come 2018 and expect the case for McDavid to only become stronger.
The Case For Connor McDavid
1. His Scoring Touch
The main reason why McDavid has so quickly challenged Crosby, has been his ability to score. In 2017, not only did McDavid lead the league in points, but he did it by a surprisingly wide margin. McDavid tallied his first triple-digit point season as a sophomore, finishing with 100 points; 11 clear of any other player in the entire NHL. Crosby also lead the league in points in his second NHL season but only by six points. When you consider that NHL scoring has almost consistently been on a downfall since 2005, McDavid’s accomplishment is even more impressive.
Edmonton is also not a particularly high volume scoring team either. Over the last decade, the Oilers have only finished out of the bottom-10 in goals for, three times. Those three times came scattered throughout the decade and in the three seasons leading up to 2016-17, Edmonton finished in the bottom-six every season. With McDavid in the lineup, it is a different story. Healthy for all of 2017, McDavid lead the Oilers to 8th in total goals for, and collected a point on 41% of their goals. The powerplay efficiency also improved from 18th in 2016 to 5th in 2017. McDavid was 11th in powerplay points but despite that stat, his powerplay points only accounted for 27% of his total scoring output.
Last season proved that McDavid is dangerous anywhere, and teams must account for him everywhere on the ice.
2. He Makes Players Around Him Better
You can not be considered a top player in the NHL unless you improve the others around you. McDavid does that so much so that who ever plays with him becomes an immediate impact player. Many people believe that Leon Draisaitl is a product of McDavid, but Draisaitl had been a consistent scorer since junior.
The other most obvious beneficiary McDavid has been Patrick Maroon. Maroon had the privilege of playing on a very talented Anaheim Ducks team throughout his early years in the NHL but never saw production at such a high level until paired with McDavid. Despite having the chance to play on occasion with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, Maroon set highs in points, goals, and plus-minus in his first season as an Oiler. The McDavid effect is glaring.
Another player to be aided by McDavid was Drake Caggiula. Relatively unheard of before the start of the 2017 playoffs, Caggiula got a chance to play with McDavid towards the end of their season and saw immediate results. In Caggiula’s last four games of the season, he netted three goals; all with McDavid on the ice. McDavid may have only grabbed an assist on one of Caggiula’s goals but it is his presence that makes teams alter a game plan. On Caggiula’s game 7 goal, Ducks defenceman Shea Theodore clearly looks up and sees McDavid as he brings the puck out from behind the net. After seeing McDavid and deciding he does not want to challenge him, he makes an uncharacteristic mistake and turns the puck over directly in front of his own goal, leading to Caggiula’s marker.
Instances like this show not only how big of a presence McDavid is while effecting statistics but how daunting and nerve wrecking he is to play against.
3. The Oilers Are Starting to Win Again
McDavid made it very clear after receiving his first Hart Trophy that the Stanley Cup is the trophy that means the most to him. The individual awards are nice, but McDavid is hoping to help the Oilers return to prominence after so many years of failure.
Despite the compiling of first-overall draft choices, McDavid has been the no.1 selection to lead them back to the playoffs. It was also in his first full season in the NHL. Where Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov all failed, McDavid has soared with flying colours. Not only that, but the Oilers won a playoff series and if not for some questionable refereeing, may have gotten through all the way to the Western Conference Finals. McDavid will be a year older in 2018 and with his young squad gaining valuable playoff experience in the past season, they have the potential to create something special for years to come.
Leading a team to the finals in only his third season may be a stretch for McDavid but it is definitely possible. Crosby reached his first finals in his third NHL season and the Oilers could certainly replicate that feat.
Even if McDavid does not consider to himself to be at the same level of Crosby, he has to recognize his own talent. McDavid does not have the same two-way ability as Crosby, but has made strides every year to improve. 2017 is going to be a big year for him because if he is able to dominate the scoring race again or capture a Stanley Cup, he may become the more popular choice of the two as the NHL’s best player.
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