Connor McDavid Gets Comfortable in Big Weekend

Naysayers and believers alike have been waiting for that moment to come where Connor McDavid explodes for the first time at the NHL level and shows a real glimpse of what he’s capable of.

It may have happened over the weekend in a back-to-back that featured his first Battle of Alberta, in which he scored a pair of goals and added an assist in Edmonton’s first win of the season.
It wasn’t just that he had his first multi-point game on Saturday, it was the way he did it and that his best moments over the weekend often had little to do with the points he put on the board. We saw a glimpse of an 18-year-old kid making some NHL caliber defensemen look a little silly with his ability to counter attempts at gap control with speed and ability to dangle through defenders like a teenager shouldn’t be able to do.

Making a Point

McDavid posting three points was a big piece of the puzzle in the Oilers’ first win of the McDavid era.

The first tally saw McDavid hold onto the puck despite having Benoit Pouliot moving up the ice ahead of him. He recognizes that Kris Russell isn’t managing the gap well. He forces Russell to close the gap after he’s backed in too far and becomes little more than a screen for McDavid’s wrist shot.

His second point of the night was a secondary assist on Nail Yakupov’s first of the season. The takeaway here was McDavid’s tenacity. He’s hustling after Markus Granlund like crazy when he doesn’t have much of a chance of getting the puck. It’s a situation where many forwards would start to coast.

Instead, he pressures Granlund, and the momentum of chasing Granlund puts him in a position to rob Mark Giordano when he bobbles the puck. Then it’s some great vision to spin around and put the puck on Pouliot’s stick. It’s also a great play by Pouliot, who finds Yakupov in a hurry.

McDavid’s second goal and third point of the night was a fine tap-in, but the real credit on that play goes to a thread-the-needle pass from Taylor Hall.

He kept the momentum going on Sunday, assisting on a Yakupov goal to open the scoring against the Vancouver Canucks. McDavid beat two checks entering the zone, then went against his momentum to put the puck through a gap between four Canucks and onto Yak’s stick, while going full speed, for a one-timer. (Yakupov is going to love playing with McDavid. Might be the distributor Yakupov needs to deliver on that 1st overall designation.)

Making Plays & Getting Selfish

McDavid’s weekend would have been notable enough if it was just the points he put up on Saturday, but his most awe inspiring moments happened on plays that didn’t result in a goal. Overall, he was playing with more confidence than we’d seen in the prior four games and he played more selfishly, in the best possible way.

There’s a reason there has been so much hype about McDavid. It’s that he’s pretty good. (You might have heard.) As an 18-year-old jumping into the NHL, it’s expected that there’s a learning curve and some deferment to veteran players. But in the team’s first four games McDavid was deferring too often, when he has the ability to make the play himself. He wasn’t carrying the puck and driving the net with the confidence a player of his talents should.

That changed on Saturday.

A big part of his goal through the screen was confident play and driving the net, playing Russell’s gap against him, the kind of intelligent play we say when McDavid was with the Eerie Otters that blew scouts away.

We see something similar in the GIF below where McDavid drives at Dougie Hamilton, stick-handling through Hamilton’s stick twice as McDavid’s speed and stick-handling prowess get the Oilers a clean zone entry with control of the puck below the goal line.

If that play is selling you on his skills and intelligence, this should cement the opinion. McDavid almost had the hatty, but for an incredible last ditch effort save by Jonas Hiller.

The numbers play out some strong play overall. Edmonton had a shot attempt advantage in Saturday’s game, putting up a 59.6% score-adjusted CF%. That’s dominant. But McDavid was even more dominant with a 79.1% score-adjusted CF%. That’s just one game, so there’s not really any predictive value there, but it shows that he was putting on a clinic.

These plays scream confidence. McDavid having some success over the weekend personally, being a part of his team’s first win of the season, that’s going to keep building him up.

Coming Together

The best news for Edmonton is that the team finally looked put together for the first time all season. They were an offensive threat consistently and the win was the result of a lot of players having a good night. That includes all four of their first overall draft picks. The Oilers got goals from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Hall and Yakupov, in addition to McDavid, making Saturday’s game the first time in NHL history that four number one overall picks scored a goal for the same team.

Beyond offense, they were bailed out by a goaltender on Sunday when Vancouver outshot them 34-24. Edmonton getting bailed out by a goaltender isn’t something you they want to do often — they have hung many goaltenders out too dry for weeks at a time — but seeing Anders Nilsson step into the lineup and post a .971 save percentage is encouraging as well.

Oilers fans have been waiting for a new era to arrive and may have started the celebrations a little soon (last year, the year before, this year), but this weekend was proof that McDavid will adapt quickly to the NHL and be a force and that while the playoffs may remain a long shot, Edmonton is going to make tangible steps forward this season.

Advanced stats via War on Ice.