Connor McDavid has been in the national spotlight from an early age, much like Sidney Crosby’s name was bandied about long before he became the saviour of the Pittsburgh Penguins after being tabbed with the first overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Ten years later, the next “generational” talent took the stage as Connor McDavid pulled on the orange jersey of the lowly Edmonton Oilers with massive expectations borne from a decade-long playoff-less drought placed upon his shoulders.
McDavid’s minor midget career and path to the NHL had been bordering on legend. After tallying over 200 points as a 14-year old, McDavid became just the third player granted exceptional status and early entry into the OHL. As a 15-year-old in the OHL, McDavid captured the OHL’s Rookie of the Year award and led Canada to a gold medal at the World Under-18 Championship. Accolades and piles of points continued to flood in, as McDavid captured the league’s regular season and postseason Most Outstanding Player nods on his way to becoming the first overall pick in 2015.
There has been perhaps no point in NHL history that a team has had a run of sustained futility as tragic as Edmonton’s current squad has endured. After a magical playoff run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006, the Oilers have missed the playoff in every season. A string of three consecutive first overall selections was followed by picking in the NHL Draft’s top 10 the next two years, before lucking into the top pick in 2015. The task to turn around the middling franchise fell squarely upon the teenaged shoulders of McDavid, and his first year in the league has Edmonton fans more than confident he’ll deliver.
McDavid’s Rookie Season at a Glance
McDavid’s quiet NHL debut may have been overshadowed by Jack Eichel potting his first goal against the Ottawa Senators, but it didn’t take the young centreman long to find his footing in Edmonton. While he waited three games to pot his first goal against the Dallas Stars, even Sid the Kid was held off the scoresheet for the first two games of his career.
However, McDavid quickly meshed on a line with Benoit Pouliot and Nail Yakupov, rattling off a seven-game point streak and racking up 12 in his first 13 games.
Things took a turn for the worse in a tilt with the Philadelphia Flyers in early November, as he was involved in a violent collision with Flyers defensemen Michael Del Zotto and Brandon Manning and diagnosed with a broken clavicle.
McDavid was sidelined for nearly three months, missing 37 games and sinking the Oilers to the bottom of the Pacific Division. When he returned, top Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom had been lost for the season with an injury, and the Oilers were sinking fast amidst rumours of a potential Taylor Hall or Jordan Eberle trade.
McDavid quickly proved he had suffered no ill effects of injury, scoring quite possibly one of the most fantastic goals of the season against the Columbus Blue Jackets:
Despite the Oilers floundering in the standings, McDavid continued to rack up points despite poor output from his linemates. He went on to tally 36 points in just 32 games, highlighted by a five-point game in his first matchup against his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite a 29th-place finish from the Oilers, McDavid ended the season with the third-highest points per game mark (1.07) in the entire NHL, behind only Hart Trophy winner Patrick Kane and finalist Jamie Benn.
How Good Was McDavid?
It didn’t take long for McDavid to earn the trust of new head coach Todd McLellan, as he finished second in the NHL in rookie ice time for a forward, only behind Buffalo’s Jack Eichel. McDavid made the most of his time on ice, ranking second in the league in points/60 minutes behind only the timeless Jaromir Jagr.
McDavid’s production in limited ice time was among the best out of all NHL freshmen last year. Despite finishing third in final Calder Trophy voting, it’s not unreasonable to believe McDavid could have won the award if he hadn’t lost nearly half the season to an unfortunate injury. While eventual Calder winner Artemi Panarin posted the highest rookie totals since Patrick Kane with 30 goals and 77 points, McDavid was actually on pace to surpass the Russian sniper’s totals. McDavid outpaced Panarin in several individual categories, including relative goals for, points per 60 minutes, and goals for per 60 minutes.
In fact, despite the NHL’s very real decline in scoring in the past few seasons, McDavid’s 1.07 points per game mark in his freshman campaign makes him one of only four players (Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Evgeni Malkin comprise the remaining trio) since the 2004-05 lockout to score at a point per game pace as rookies. Not only does McDavid pass the eye test, but his point production is in some lofty company after one season in the league (albeit a smaller sample size).
McDavid’s complete offensive game is a boon to his teammates, as he has been known to boost the stats of anyone playing with him. The Connor McDavid effect was apparent to his linemates throughout the season, most notably Nail Yakupov tallying 10 points in his first 12 games playing on his wing. According to Corsica, McDavid’s linemates enjoyed a 51% relative Corsi-for rating while playing with the phenom, while dropping to 49% without him.
Meanwhile, it’s no surprise that the Oilers sank in the standings during McDavid’s absence, as his point production by expected goals for percentage was far superior to that of his Edmonton teammates. His teammates enjoyed a 56% expected goals for percentage while playing with McDavid, as opposed to a 47% mark without him. McDavid proved to be the rare player who makes everyone who plays with him better with a hugely impressive statistical season in both advanced and traditional statistics.
The Sky is The Limit
It’s hard not to draw comparisons in the trajectory of McDavid’s career to that of Sidney Crosby. Despite the Oilers floundering in the standings, McDavid acclimated himself to the professional ranks admirably and ended the year as one of the top players in the entire league. While the Oilers have made their name in recent seasons taking some of the top young players in the world through the draft, McDavid’s excellent rookie season has instilled a fresh start of sorts in Alberta’s capital. Oilers General Manager Peter Chiarelli, finally pulling the trigger on a trade for a young defender, gave his vote of confidence in McDavid by dealing Taylor Hall to the Devils on June 29th.
Hall, the team’s leading scorer in three of the last four seasons, was the necessary return for Edmonton to land Swedish blueliner Adam Larsson. And while Larsson hopefully solidifies the team’s long-ridiculed defensive corps, McDavid is the most promising young forward in the NHL and one of its most exciting playmakers. McDavid’s maturity has been widely lauded in his first season in the league. Even though the Oilers played the 2015-16 season without a captain, instead choosing to roll four alternate captains, McDavid truly made it known that the Oilers were his team to lead in the future.
Oilers bench boss Todd McLellan stated in his season-ending press conference, “Connor was a tremendous leader with us this year in his short time with us. His presence alone when he walks into the room — and he knows it — he exudes confidence, he carries himself properly.” With Hall gone, McDavid seems like the logical choice to hand the Oilers’ vacant captaincy to. With his breathtaking offensive abilities and maturity beyond his years, expect this “generational” talent to soon become not only the face of the up and coming Oilers, but the NHL as well.
Joseph Aleong is an At-Large writer for THW from Toronto, Ontario. He is a graduate of Brock University in St. Catharines, ON. Follow him on Twitter @josephaleong11