For the sixth consecutive season, Connor McDavid enters the season as the Oilers’ best player under the age of 25. Next year, I’m going to take a wild guess, and say that he will make it a perfect seven for seven.
Want to see what a bunch of columns with the number one in them look like?
Weird question, and you probably said no, but here’s our voting anyway:
It’s pointless to write this article like the other ones in this series. Of course McDavid is the Oilers’ top young player. Leon Draisaitl was even (barely) too old for the list this year, so no one could pick anyone else, even if it was just to be a contrarian, without looking like a total dickhead.
Connor McDavid has had one of the best five-year stretches to start a career in NHL history.
How historically good has he been so far?
Well, I took a look at the top 200 debut stints, in which a player was in his first five years in the league, and also 23 years old or younger at the halfway point of the season, sorted by hockey reference’s adjusted points, since the 1967 NHL expansion:
McDavid ranks fourth by this measure, despite missing significant time due to injury in his rookie season. He also ranks eighth in total points scored, without applying an era-adjustment for league-wide scoring rate.
By Points Above Threshold, a measure I’ve used before to assess hall of fame candidacy, which is computed by the formula (adjusted points - (games played * 0.5)), McDavid also ranks fourth, behind only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Sidney Crosby, and one spot ahead of Eric Lindros.
I took a closer look at the top-10 career-opening stints by adjusted points, and found that, while McDavid’s overall production is impressive, his even strength scoring rate so far may be even more outstanding.
McDavid has recorded 324 even-strength points in his first five years in the league. That’s 0.92 even-strength points per game.
For reference, Sidney Crosby only averaged 0.78 even-strength points per game in his first five seasons. Only three of the players on this list out-performed McDavid in even-strength points per game: Gretzky (1.57!!!!), Lemieux (1.05), and Lindros (1.01).
However, you should keep in mind that, while this top-10 list was generated by sorting era-adjusted scoring, the even-strength scoring numbers listed here are not era-adjusted. So, McDavid is going toe-to-toe with numbers that were put up by the likes of of Gretzky, Lemieux, Trottier, and Hawerchuk in the high-scoring 80s, and even Lindros in the early 90s, which was still a higher league-wide scoring stretch than McDavid saw in his first five years.
I think it’s fair to say that McDavid is undoubtedly a generational player. His only comparables on all these lists were generational players themselves, and, with the exception of Gretzky, McDavid can be compared favourably to any of them, depending on which stats you value the most.
That brings me to my next point, which is to address the rising sentiment that McDavid may not be the best player in the world right now.
As most readers will recall, McDavid won the scoring title and his first (and so far only) MVP award in his second season, at the age of 20. He won it decisively as well, with 100 points in a season when no one else scored 90.
Ever since then, he’s been widely considered the best player on earth. But, he’s failed to win another MVP in his last three seasons, and hasn’t won a scoring title in his last two.
Despite this, he’s set a new career-high for points per game every year he’s played.
To be fair, his critics aren’t suggesting that he’s not the best offensive player in the league. Advanced statistics haven’t painted his defensive impact in a positive light in either of the last two seasons.
He lead the league in Hockey Reference’s Expected +/- in his MVP year, and was an expected +40.4 from 2016-18. But, he’s only been an expected +1.9 over the last two seasons.
Still, I don’t think those who are suggesting he’s not the league’s best, are considering how impossibly high his offensive floor is, and how other-worldly his game can be when his offensive repertoire can be accompanied by anything other than his defensive floor.
Last year, his offensive numbers were, as always, unbelievable. But, some pointed out that they were buoyed by playing on the league’s best powerplay.
That’s completely true, and fair, but consider how other-worldly his numbers could’ve been if he combined last year’s powerplay output with his even-strength output from the two prior seasons.
In 2017-19 McDavid recorded 171 points in 160 games EXCLUDING his powerplay output. 1.07 points per game.
Last year, he led the league’s top special teams unit, and recorded 43 power play points in 64 game while doing so. That’s 0.67 powerplay points per game.
If you put that all together in one year, it would result in 143 points over an 82 game season. Combine that with the 200-foot game he demonstrated from 2016-18, and we’re looking at a player who’s breaking WAR models, lapping the field in value added.
Remember, he spent all of the 2019 offseason recovering from a significant leg injury. That likely had a significant impact on his game, but he still found a way to produce at an elite level. Now he’s had a full offseason to train, and the Oilers no longer have a dogshit powerplay. I certainly wouldn’t take anyone over him in a fantasy draft this year.
As a baseball fan, I see a lot of similarities between McDavid and Mike Trout. Every year, a segment of baseball fans will suggest that Trout’s not the best player in the world. But, it remains obvious that he actually is, because every year it’s a new player that’s supposedly stolen his crown.
Nikita Kucherov is hockey’s Christian Yelich and Nathan MacKinnon is Mookie Betts, who, like MacKinnon, may be a little better at defense than McDavid or Trout are, but, like Trout, McDavid’s worst full season to date is still enough to warrant MVP consideration in a typical year.
Over the last three seasons, McDavid leads the league in points per game at 1.43, to Kucherov’s 1.36, and MacKinnon’s 1.28.
At even strength, McDavid’s 0.98 points per game is, again, the best in the NHL, ahead of Kucherov (0.89), Artemi Panarin (0.88), and a trio of Leon Draisaitl, Patrick Kane, and MacKinnon, all at 0.84.
And, remember, the three-year stretch I’m referring to EXCLUDES McDavid’s MVP season in 2016-17.
Connor McDavid is on another level.