Edmonton – Over the course of his seven seasons in the National Hockey League, we’ve been amazed when Conor McDavid skated as young Pavel Bure, or controlled the flow of an NHL game as Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux.
We’ve seen his game have matured the way Steve Yzerman and Sidney Crosby have long developed, reaching an escalation in the past few months as MacDavid kicked off his 25-year season.
That’s right, at 25, McDavid is playing the best hockey game of his life at this very moment, a statement we can’t take lightly. As cool as it has been so far, stop it, folks – this is a generation player entering his heyday years before our very eyes.
MacDavid, aged 25 in 2022, is 21-year-old Wayne Gretzky in the fall of ’81. He’s 22-year-old Jordi Howe in 1950.
But with the undisputed best player in the game today entering his peak performance, there’s one Hall of Famer I would have never thought he would look like: Mark Messier.
But there was McDavid early in Game 2, running defender Mickey Anderson through the boards from behind, an instant look of guilt on his face Messier wouldn’t let go. On Messier’s day, that blow was tough. Today it’s a border specialty called a minor in Game 2, each teammate’s penalty kick is just as good to kill.
“When your captain goes out and hits his body, it’s easy for everyone else to do that too,” said goalkeeper Mike Smith. “When your hat throws off a little bit, it kind of draws everyone into the fight.
“It’s a hockey game.”
As the game progresses, there’s McDavid, attacking Alex Iafallo, and using his speed to punish – you read that correctly: “Punish” – a small and inexperienced King’s Defense Corps, it was evident that Edmonton targeted him as the weak point they would exploit for the remainder of the series .
It’s, surprisingly, another layer of his game revealed by McDavid.
It is an onion isn’t it? Just when you think he can’t get better, there is another layer that leaves the person crying.
Look, Conor MacDavid is not going to be Eric Lindros when it comes to body. But as we watched him dance in defense of the Kings on Wednesday night, he showed just how far ahead his game overall.
During his first six seasons in Edmonton, McDavid put in 1.41 points per game and went on a points total plus 64. He helped the Oilers win games 5-4, but there weren’t enough of those available as the span came, and they couldn’t win 3 -2 when they are counted. Edmonton played 21 playoffs during that time, winning one playoff round during his first six seasons.
This season, McDavid has produced a career high of 1.54 points per game. However, career highs in plus-minus (plus 28), showdown percentage (53.7), and equal-strength goal difference (plus 31) probably tell the story of where his game has landed.
Certainly, he achieved his highest goals (44) assists (79) and points (123). This is a clear improvement, and his attacking at the highest level of his career has reached the best defensive season confirms what coaches always say about a good defense that provides an attacking opportunity.
But this season, McDavid has also put career marks in hits and hits taken, telling you he’s spending more time on the ice areas where hits happen. Low down in the defensive zone. In all four corners of the ring. Along the walls – all the battle stations of our sport, where players start and stop instead of turning and turning.
Where success can hurt, it’s probably the only place on the ice where a player like McDavid can find themselves at a disadvantage, playing outside their comfort zone against bigger and stronger opponents.
As for the impressive stats set, MacDavid Corsey’s numbers (62.38%), Fenwick (62.09%), shots (62.43%) and high-risk goals (72.03%) have all been career highs this season. Thanks, Natural Stat Trick.
How did we get here then?
Well, it’s clear that McDavid made it important to finish his game. But it wasn’t as easy as you think.
He was rocking at plus-5 when Dave Tippett was fired on April 10, and his team still plays that risky, high-octane style that runs out of gas sometime in mid-March in the NHL.
“We have to find a way,” Oilers general manager Ken Holland said angrily that day. He had watched his team excel 8-1 in two games outside the All-Star break, then fired a coach mid-season for the first time in 25 years. As a manager.” You can’t win 5-4. We won many games in the first quarter, we scored five goals to win. So… hopefully in a different voice. We all say the same message…”
He has been the Oilers plus-23 captain in 37 games since then. Part of that is head coach Jay Woodcroft’s new structure, but for me, more credit goes to the captain leading his teammates on a path the organization knows they need to travel.
Today, McDavid is entering human territory in the power game. A unit that never struggles to set up shop gets more time in the zone to ditch the opponent’s penalty, because McDavid brings the tweaks to the zone like a hot knife through butter.
His management of the disk has grown by light years. The stakes are saved when you fall behind in the third game – not in a tie game or an Oilers-led game.
Quietly, MacDavid was holding Jesse Poliujarvi without apparent complaint, which is the thing a true leader does. It cost McDavid points, but in the long run, if Puljujarvi finds things out, it will be better for the team.
And in Game 1, with Oilers playing like the weight of the world was on their shoulders, McDavid’s solo effort before the first break brought his team and fans straight back into the game. He can still do that too, remember he’s navigating between kings in a solo dash that evokes references to video games.
McDavid only fought four regular season games in his 487-game career, taking four hits. He posted this number in both Matches 1 and 2 against the Kings.
Engaged / engaged? Oh, he got engaged.
This is you guys. A great player entering his greatest season.
Sit back and enjoy it. You will tell your grandchildren about this one day.