Edmonton Oilers: What Will They Get From Connor McDavid


Mandatory Credit: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Edmonton Oilers top prospect Connor McDavid showed some very impressive flashes of elite level skating skill and offensive vision while playing in his lone game in the Penticton Prospects tournament and again last night, tallying three assists in the exhibition game against the University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey team. The U of A hockey club has been an absolute power house in the Canadian Inter-university Sport competition but they have back-to-back National Championships and even with a resume such as that it is still not an accurate representation of how McDavid will perform against professionals.

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When it comes to projecting his level of offense in the National Hockey League it will be incredibly difficult. Never before has a prospect been so highly touted as an offensive weapon and given this much opportunity in joining not only their respective NHL club but the top line. By all accounts, McDavid exhibits that top level first two strides and can be deceptively quick in transition and accelerates unlike any other prospect in the Oilers organization. Add in his delicate hands and his ability to make plays and generate offence and we legitimately have a top line center plucked out of the Ontario Hockey League.

However, his expectations and point totals are subject to debate and I for one am airing on the side of caution when it comes to what McDavid will be capable of and where in the line up he will fit. During the BioSteel Camp tournament McDavid was paired with fellow Oilers forward Taylor Hall and almost instantly the chemistry of those two playing together became evident. In addition it has surfaced that Hall and McDavid will be living together this upcoming season (*if McDavid makes the team). Who gets the top bunk has yet to be decided.

However, the amount of progress and development that the organization has put into current first line center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins begs the question that does McDavid have the skill set to overcome Nugent-Hopkins on the depth chart. Nugent-Hopkins struggled in his first two seasons in the NHL largely due to the lack of physical maturity, as the case for most 18 year old draft picks. McDavid is not an ordinary 18 year old. Nugent-Hopkins has made significant strides in his two-way game and has an one-ice vision that puts him in the ranks of elite level centers in the NHL.

Nugent-Hopkins, albeit on a terrible 2011-2012 Oilers team posted a respectable 52 points (18-34-52) in 62 games in his first NHL season. Though I find McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins to be similar prospects, I truly think that McDavid is a more skilled NHL rookie than Nugent-Hopkins was at that point in his career. In this same mentality I believe that McDavid will be capable of the same 50 point plateau, and that reaching 60 points as a rookie is something that McDavid is more than capable of. However, when Nugent-Hopkins broke into the league, the Oilers top centers at the time consisted of Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner and Eric Belanger. A group that offensively was consistently weak allowing Nugent-Hopkins to earn top line minutes. There wasn’t a player of Nuge’s quality for him to beat out when joining the team in 2011-2012.

Ice time for Nugent-Hopkins in his rookie year averaged only 17:36 for a rookie season, a number that I believe will be exactly around the amount of Ice time that McDavid will earn this season. I can see McDavid penciled in at the second line center position, slightly sheltered from opponents top pairing defenceman. Second line centers around the NHL continually fall in the average ice times between 16-19 minutes per night. I would estimate that McDavid will be playing near that 17 to 18 minutes a night and see considerable looks on both power play units.

Then there is new Head Coach Todd McLellan to consider…

McClellan generally allows young players to work themselves into the line up, starting them in the bottom six forward groups and promotes them depending on the team needs, wins or statistical improvements. Last year, sophomore Tomas Hertl averaged 14:33 in TOI last year and found himself playing up and down the left wing depending on the situation. Now, I am not comparing the skill level of Hertl and McDavid, just their deployment and usage by McClellan. He played up with Joe Thornton and Logan Couture depending on his performance, injuries and quality of competition. This is a similar practice as most NHL rookies meaning that just because McDavid has the skill to play more minutes, he won’t necessarily play them. As a new head coach, McClellan will give plenty of new opportunities to the players to fight and earn their spots in the line up. Last year, Leon Draisaitl was basically given a spot on the team to play center. I can’t help but think that the days of being handed a spot on any NHL roster are long over.

All in all, McDavid is going to be an Oilers for at least the next three seasons (until a big money extension gets done) and given that he is a once in a generational type player its important to pump the brakes a bit in terms of his usage, effectiveness and level of expectations. After all, he is still a young man and has not reached his peak physical form and adulthood. Don’t expect him to come into the NHL and be a head and shoulders above all his competition because in the NHL the reality is that these are the fittest, strongest, intelligent and the overall best players in the world. It’s going to take some time and if we as fans want him to be an Oilers player for life, why not be patient for the first little bit of what is shaping up to be a tremendous career.

Next: Edmonton Oilers: Training Camp is Finally Here

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