It’s rather unfair to be labelled the next big thing. The
weight of expectation could crush someone not mentally strong enough. Connor
McDavid’s NHL career has been highly anticipated since he was 11 years old and
his debut only disappointed because we were robbed of a full season by a Flyers
defense whose only means of stopping the child prodigy was jumping on his back
and driving his shoulder into the boards. While voters played mental gymnastics
finding ways to say he wasn’t worthy of the Calder trophy, what’s clear to
those who watched was that he was already well past the rookie conversation.
Now we’re left wondering how many in the league McDavid isn’t already better
The kid is the real deal. His peers aren’t the hundreds of
other players in the league. Now Connor McDavid will be compared to a select special
few who are here now and who came before him. The expectation for young McDavid
isn’t to merely be good, but to be one of the best…ever. He belongs to the
caste of generational talents who have come to define their eras of hockey.
There is real push-back to placing that kind of expectancy on
a teenager. I understand it. Why do that to anybody, let alone someone who is
barely old enough to vote? Our friend Lowetide has made honest and real efforts
to create a set of reasonable expectations for Oiler players over and over for
many years. What can one reasonably expect from Connor McDavid? Well, before we
answer that, let’s first ask whether anything about 97 even resembles
I don’t think there’s anything about his particular blend of
skill, speed, and vision that even comes close to “reasonable”. I don’t think
it’s proper to expect similar improvement from him as I would, say, Leon
Draisaitl or Darnell Nurse in their second full seasons.
McDavid’s 1.07 points per game were the fourth
highest of any rookie to come into the NHL in 22 years. Only Ovechkin, Crosby,
and Malkin had higher points per game as rookies. Both Malkin and Ovechkin had
extra development time before coming into the NHL and all three came into the league
when the crackdown on obstruction allowed for more offense via the power play.
What’s interesting is that if we look at only the Even Strength points per game
(rookie season) for those four, then McDavid’s brilliance really stands out:
Now, to be totally fair, because PP opportunities were fewer,
McDavid did play more at even strength than the other three on a per game
basis. He was at 15:08 minutes a night while they ranged between 12:56 and
14:05 a night. Still, I’m giving the edge to McDavid since scoring at even
strength is so much harder than while on the PP, and since the boy-wonder was
playing roughly three minutes a night on the PP while the other three were getting
almost six minutes a night or more.
What I’m taking a long time to get at is that so far
everything Connor McDavid has done has been in line with the expectations of
those few generational players who enter the game. So in looking at what those
generational players have done moving from their rookie seasons to their
sophomore seasons, we might get an idea of what to expect from a special player
like McDavid. This is my list of “Generational” players since Wayne Gretzky.
Your list may vary:
The average increase is roughly 15% in points per game. Only
Ovechkin decreased his points per game in his second season, though it
increased every year for the next three after that and year two was the only
out of his first five that saw him with less than 100 points. Mario Lemieux’s
almost 30% increase is something quite special indeed. Perhaps we should
consider an Olympic approach to expectations for McDavid and drop the highest
and lowest increase. That leaves an expectation based on precedent that Connor
McDavid will increase his offensive output by approximately 20%.
What might Connor McDavid accomplish this season? History
suggests we could see a player that jumps from 1.07 to 1.28 points per game. If
healthy and able to play 80 games this season, Connor McDavid ought to be capable of
posting more than 100 points. This is in an era of NHL scoring where points are
criminally hard to come by. There has been a single player over 100 points in
two of the last three seasons. Two years ago, nobody cracked 100.
I think placing expectations on his point totals in the 80’s
or even the low 90’s is unreasonable. He’s too good to place – and I can’t believe
I’m about to say this – such a low bar on this young man. He is generationally
talented and I believe that this year we will see him compete for the Hart and
the Art Ross trophy. I know that sounds like too much. It isn’t.