This summer, the Edmonton Oilers made the headlines by re-signing their franchise player Connor McDavid to a massive eight-year deal worth $100 million.
That is definitely a nice chunk of change, but from a business standpoint, one can argue that McDavid is worth every penny of that deal. Especially when you consider the impact he has made on the NHL and what he has done for the Oilers so far.
In his second NHL season, McDavid became the youngest player to be ever named the captain of an NHL team at only 19-years-old. He then went on to have a dominant 2016/17 season, leading the league in scoring with 30 goals, 70 assists for 100 points.
Connor McDavid Center Born Jan 13 1997 -- Richmond Hill, ONT Height 6.01 -- Weight 190 -- Shoots L Selected by Edmonton Oilers round 1 #1 overall 2015 NHL Entry Draft --- Regular Season --- ---- Playoffs ---- Season Team Lge GP G A Pts PIM GP G A Pts PIM -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2012-13 Erie Otters OHL 63 25 41 66 36 -- -- -- -- -- 2013-14 Erie Otters OHL 56 28 71 99 20 14 4 15 19 2 2014-15 Erie Otters OHL 47 44 76 120 48 20 21 28 49 12 2015-16 Edmonton Oilers NHL 45 16 32 48 18 -- -- -- -- -- 2016-17 Edmonton Oilers NHL 82 30 70 100 26 13 5 4 9 2 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- NHL Totals 127 46 102 148 44 13 5 4 9 2
McDavid also helped lead Edmonton back to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in 11 years and fell one game shy of reaching the Western Conference Finals.
To wrap up his successful season, number 97 took home three big name awards in the Art Ross Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award.
Beyond the surface
For someone with less than 130 games of NHL experience, McDavid has definitely had an explosive start to his career and already has a very impressive resume. However, for those who don’t watch McDavid closely, you may not understand why he has been so successful in the league and what makes him such a dominant player.
With this article, we will try to educate you in that regard by taking a deep dive into the 20-year-old’s game. By analyzing the techniques, strategies, and skills he possesses and reasons why he is one of the elite players in the NHL.
We will also take a look at some parts of his game he could improve upon to make him even more exceptional.
By the same token, we will explore how opposing teams around the NHL can possibly mitigate McDavid’s effectiveness on the ice or at least try to slow him down.
Finally, we will make future projections for what McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers can achieve in the foreseeable future.
Why is Connor McDavid so dominant?
Obviously, McDavid is one of the best hockey players in the world and arguably the best player in the game, aside from Sidney Crosby.
There are several key elements of his game that makes him one of the best players of this generation. They essentially make him seem nearly impossible to guard at times while electrifying fans any given night.
One of the most noticeable things about McDavid’s game is his speed!
It is incredible to watch how powerful his initial three strides are and how fast he can get to top speed.
This is probably McDavid’s biggest asset that sets him apart from 99% of the players in the NHL. It helps him create many of his scoring chances and makes him a constant breakaway-threat anywhere on the ice.
Although speed is something that can be improved, it doesn’t look like anyone has McDavid’s explosiveness.
This is probably a big reason why McDavid is often labeled as a “generational talent”.
If we look at the history of the NHL in the past 20 years, aside from Pavel Bure, it might be hard to name another NHL player with the same type of speed that can change the complexion of a hockey game.
Sometimes we can forget how fast McDavid really is until we see him line up against elite NHL players and make them look very average on plays.
A prime example of this can be seen in the video below, where he uses his speed to beat an excellent defenseman in Oliver Ekman-Larsson to score a wonderful goal. Take notice of how both players have an equal starting point, but McDavid just pulls away halfway through the race.
His Puck Handling
Aside from his speed, another impressive skill set McDavid possesses is his incredible stickhandling abilities. At 6’1″, 200lbs he is not the strongest or biggest guy in the NHL but he is able to utilize his puck handling skills to escape much bigger and stronger opponents.
He has the rare ability to be able to keep firm control of the puck at top speed, change directions quickly, making him almost impossible to contain anywhere on the ice.
There are very few elite stick handlers in the NHL right now, and a few that comes to mind include Patrick Kane and Johnny Gaudreau. Even though all of these players are very hard to get off the puck, it looks like McDavid has the slight edge over them, as he has the speed and explosiveness to go anywhere he wants.
His hockey IQ and decision-making
In the NHL, many players have high-end speed and stickhandling abilities. However, having those skills and those skills alone can only get you so far.
Simply put, a player that doesn’t have good hockey IQ or make good decisions with the puck won’t last long in the league. We have all seen that player in every level of hockey – all style, and no substance.
However, the same can’t be said about the Canadian, as he has elite hockey IQ and vision.
After watching 90% of McDavid’s games since his debut in 2015, it’s fair to say that McDavid rarely makes a bad decision with the puck. Even under high-pressure situations he always seems to find a way to make the right decision.
This was probably one of the most impressive things I noticed about McDavid when he first came into the NHL. Like many rookies, I thought he would take at least 20-30 games to get acclimated, but by games 10-15, he already seemed like a five-to-ten year veteran.
Processes the game at high speed
Finally, when we add McDavid’s speed, stickhandling abilities, and hockey IQ all together, the last thing that puts him over the top is his ability to process the game at a high speed.
For many hockey players, as their speed increases, their puck control, passing, and decision-making abilities naturally diminish.
However, McDavid has the uncanny ability to do everything he can at high speed. On top of that, the center has elite lateral movement to slide around multiple defenders, always keeping his opponents guessing where he will go next.
As a result, this makes him dangerous every time he has the puck and often draws the attention of multiple defenders on him every shift.
How can other NHL teams stop McDavid?
Obviously, there is not one full-proof way to shut down McDavid entirely. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be as dominant as he has been.
If anything here are some ways opposing teams can possibly slow him and reduce the chances of being embarrassed by number 97.
We saw the Anaheim Ducks employ this strategy during the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring. They got Ryan Kesler to shadow McDavid around the ice.
Overall, Kesler did a great job to keep up with McDavid and gave him very little free space to operate. It seemed to have worked in the Ducks’ favor in some games but it didn’t him stop from scoring entirely.
In any respect, not every team in the NHL has a player like Ryan Kesler at their disposal. At the same time, McDavid is probably smart enough to realize that if he is being shadowed. He could nullify that by skating towards another team’s defenceman, therefore, giving his team a four-on-three advantage on the ice.
Therefore, the “shadow strategy” may work and it is definitely not perfect nor can it completely shut down McDavid from contributing offensively.
Play him physically
Another way to possibly slow down McDavid is to play him physically every chance you get.
Simply put, no one likes to get hit or slashed every time they touch the puck. It eventually wears you down and can easily frustrate or make skilled players less willing to engage with the puck.
However, there are also a lot of risks involved with this strategy.
For one, the refs tend to protect its star players from time to time. Especially if they see excessive physical play every shift, there is always the risk of taking unnecessary penalties.
At the same time, if the refs can’t keep things under control, the Oilers have had the personnel to do just that. General manager Peter Chiarelli has put together a very intimidating roster with a lineup that includes Milan Lucic, Zach Kassian, Patrick Maroon, Darnell Nurse, and Eric Gryba to name a few.
Now and then, these players are not afraid to mix it up and get physical.
Especially if they feel other teams are taking liberties on their star players (McDavid and Leon Draisaitl). They won’t hesitate to go after them and make them think twice about going after their stars.
Just ask Brandon Manning of the of Philadelphia Flyers and he can tell you all about it:
What can McDavid improve upon?
It’s hard to imagine that the 2015 CHL Player of the Year needs to improve any area of his game. Truthfully speaking his career would be just fine if he keeps doing what he is doing now.
However, there are no perfect hockey players in the world and there is always room for improvement. So if there were anything that Connor could improve on it would be the following:
Although McDavid has a pretty decent shot, if we take a look at his highlights, we can see that a majority of his goals are scored in close around the net or on breakaways.
In the 130 games he has played, rarely do we see McDavid score with a slapshot from the point or a one-timer from far out.
Right now one could argue that McDavid’s shot is not a major threat from distance.
After all, his NHL career does not depend on him improving his shot, could you imagine how scary he would be if he added this element to his game?
Passing on the powerplay
Don’t get me wrong, McDavid is a great passer and has decent playmaking abilities but after watching his game closely for the past few seasons, I noticed that his passing on the power play could be improved.
In that, when he is setting up on the powerplay, his passes are rather obvious and take a split second too long, allowing his opponents to be able to read where the puck is going to be.
This is rather noticeable when you compare his passing on the power play to a player like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Even though McDavid is the better all-around player, you can argue that Nugent-Hopkins has a slight edge in playing on the power play.
In that “The Nuge” is more deceptive with the puck and makes his passes less predictable as they come off his stick at more opportune times.
McDavid’s expectations going forward
Obviously, McDavid has a bright future ahead, and he is just getting started.
The Oilers have the luxury of watching him play for nine more years.
At only 20-years-old, he should be a top player in the league for at least five to seven years. On top of that, he should be a perennial threat to win the Art Ross Trophy and the Hart Trophy during this period.
Scoring 80 points a season and being a greater than a point per game player is what we should expect for a player of his caliber.
Granted that he stays healthy, it would also be very surprising to see him not finish in the top-five in scoring in the next several years.
Finally, expectations are high. With him being a generational talent, it would be somewhat disappointing to not see him win at least one Stanley Cup as an Edmonton Oiler.
However, given how good and dominant the first overall pifck from 2015 can be, it looks like winning two-to-three championships before his eight-year contract with the Oilers expires is quite possible.
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