Connor McDavid has chance to show he's one of hockey's best
Connor McDavid went around Pavel Datsyuk like he was standing still, blowing past a longtime NHL star for the kind of scoring chance a teenager shouldn't be able to produce with such ease.
McDavid playing above his age is nothing new.
"I've seen him ever since he's been about 14 years of age and he's been the best player against everybody two, three years older than him," Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill said. "He's an elite player."
McDavid is elite at 19 years old, and going into his second pro season with the Edmonton Oilers is already knocking on the door of being the best hockey player in the world. Sidney Crosby has that title right now, but uncertainty about the Pittsburgh Penguins captain's third concussion in six years has put his run of dominance on hold.
Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli believes "in short order" fans will realize how stellar McDavid is. The "Great One" already sees it.
"I like Connor McDavid," Wayne Gretzky said. "I think this kid's going to be a tremendous superstar and a great player for our sport for a long time."
McDavid follows agent Gretzky, Eric Lindros and Crosby as a generational talent who everyone knew had star potential. A broken collarbone limited him to 45 games in his rookie season, yet McDavid still had 16 goals and 32 assists. He was a finalist for the Calder Trophy despite missing half the season.
Making moves like he's using a joystick, McDavid is earning every bit of the hype that has surrounded him since he had 209 points in 88 games during his 14- and 15-year-old midget season in Toronto. His peers are in awe at just how fast McDavid is able to make plays.
"You can see a guy who can make plays in full speed," said Stars forward Lauri Korpikoski, who spent last season in Edmonton. "He's got some wheels, he can fly and at the same time he sees the ice and is able to make plays and find guys at that full speed."
The NHL is trending toward speed and skill, and McDavid exemplifies that. Scouts — and his own agent and Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Bobby Orr — have said McDavid needs to build upper-body strength as he grows into his frame, and having a stronger lower body, as Crosby does, would push him even further.
That will come in time. Hockey lifers see all the right ingredients for greatness in McDavid, who is part of an exciting wave of young players that includes 2016 top picks Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets, 2015 No. 2 pick Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres and 2014 No. 1 pick Aaron Ekblad of the Panthers.
The future of the sport is bright because of all that talent, but McDavid stands out — even to his peers.
"He's a very special player, everybody knows who he is and what he can do," Matthews said. "He thinks the game extremely well, and he's a fast player. ... He can do a lot of things at a pace that not many people can do."
McDavid is progressing fast, too, and is still learning and adding more tools to his game. Faceoffs need work after he won just 41.2 percent of draws as a rookie, but what's most dangerous to the competition is that he's fine-tuning how and when to use his speed to take over.
"You can definitely use your speed to give yourself a little bit more space," McDavid said. "Another thing that I've had to learn is to slow down sometimes and not let yourself kind of fly through the hole or fly through an opportunity where you could get the puck. There's definitely a need for speed and there's a time to be slow and kind of slow down for the puck and wait for it."
McDavid hasn't had to wait for much: He was the no-doubt No. 1 pick when he was eligible, and the Oilers last week named him the youngest captain in NHL history. Unflappable as usual, McDavid called opening a new arena and being the face of a franchise "the same pressure that I've always dealt with before."
This is nothing new, but the pressure will only expand with time.
"He's going to continue to grow our game with his skill level," Nill said. "He can play the game at such a high level, he plays the right way. He's a very respectful man on and off the ice. I just think the ceiling is endless with him. He's going to be the face of our game for many, many years."
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