As we enter a new calendar year and approach the midway point of the 2022-23 NHL campaign, safe to say we can finally put any discussion surrounding who the best player in the world is to bed. Yes, it’s hard to imagine but Connor McDavid has elevated to another level and it’s been a treat to watch.
From a team perspective, the opening 38 games to the Edmonton Oilers season has been rather underwhelming. The combination of poor play, some questionable coaching decisions, a tough schedule out of the gate, injuries and the annual roster construction questions, have all played a part.
Sitting in the middle of the pack of the Western Conference and 10 points out of top spot in the Pacific Division (with just over half a season still to play) is by no means disastrous but nowhere near ideal. Edmonton has plenty of work in front of them and McDavid appears more than ready for the challenge.
When this team has needed him most, no. 97 tends to find a way to kick into another gear. We got a first-hand glimpse of it against the Los Angeles Kings and Calgary Flames during last year’s playoffs. If the potential of dragging the collective is within reach, betting against McDavid would be a mistake.
What he has accomplished so far this season, has been remarkable. 38 games played, 32 goals, 40 assists and 72 points speak for themselves. At his current clip, McDavid is on pace to finish the season with 150+ points and quite frankly, it would be a surprise to not see him finish in said neighbourhood.
Be it at even strength, running the league’s premier power play unit or becoming more of a regular contributor on the penalty kill. No matter the need, McDavid has been up for whatever Jay Woodcroft has thrown his way and doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
Though the head coach can go overboard with it, the Oilers are entering the stage in their season where points are a necessity. Translation being, more McDavid gives them their best shot of getting what they need. This is what happens when a roster is flawed but that’s a discussion for another day.
For me, it is one of things I enjoy most about McDavid as a player. Being challenged to the degree he is and answering the call time and time again isn’t easy. Yet, he manages to do it on the regular…both for the team and from an individual perspective. Contrary to what he may say publicly, the latter matters.
Don’t kid yourself, the fact Auston Matthews won the Hart Trophy last year and was championed by some as being as good as McDavid has lit a fire under the Oilers captain. We saw him quiet the masses during last year’s playoff and he’s taken it a step further during the opening few months of this season.
The looking to shoot the puck more often and being more selfish angle isn’t new. McDavid has been working on his shot with each passing season and seemed most comfortable with it in ’21-‘22. Again, if you believe the hoopla surrounding Matthews scoring 60 went unnoticed, you’d be sorely mistaken.
There is no question, winning is priority one but for a player of McDavid’s stature, being recognized as the undisputed best player in the world also means something. So yes, the goal onslaught was coming but to see it spike to the degree it has this season is rather telling.
Apparently the need or want to put an exclamation point on the discussion was deemed as necessary thing and it’s being applied in full force. It’s not just about the points. At times, it’s as if McDavid is toying with the opposition and that’s with them already gaming planning hard for him.
If you have watched this Oilers side with any kind of regularity this season, you know what I mean. This has been different and expecting that to dissipate over the team’s final 44 games seems ridiculous. Also, McDavid has always been a strong 2nd half player and I can’t see that trend not continuing.
Could the extra ice-time catch up to him? Possibly but outside of the odd game here and there, the guy looks to have conditioned himself in a way where taking on more minutes is part of the deal. 22:45 of ice per game is a ton for a forward and as we know, on some nights, he plays well north of 25 minutes.
No doubt, the occasional breather wouldn’t hurt but if it doesn’t happen, so be it. With their schedule, eventual return of injured players and likely add via trade, I can’t see the Oilers finishing any lower than second in their division. So the opportunity for the occasional rest could develop down the road.
Could something go sideways? Of course it could but if Connor McDavid has to drag this group kicking and screaming, he will do exactly that and we shall see what happens from mid-April on. Playoff success aside, we are watching something pretty special and Oilers fans would be wise to take it all in.