As Connor McDavid prepares for his ninth season in the NHL, everything is setting up for him to finally lead the Edmonton Oilers to Stanley Cup glory.
Connor McDavid is the best player in hockey – of this there should be no debate, even more so with Sidney Crosby now in the golden years of his career. Surely even Toronto Maple Leafs fans have to admit Auston Matthews — as tremendous as he is in his own right — is not on the same level as the Edmonton Oilers superstar.
Even though McDavid was lauded as a generational talent prior to being selected first overall in the 2015 draft, he’s arguably still achieved more than some could have expected. In eight seasons, he already has five Art Ross Trophies, four Ted Lindsay Awards and three Hart Memorial Trophies.
However, for all these accolades, the one thing which continues to allude the 26-year-old is the Stanley Cup. Without at least one championship, he won’t be able to call his career complete.
Of course, no matter how talented you are, you’re not going to reach the Holy Grail if you don’t have a strong team around you. In this respect, McDavid feels like he finally has the right personnel to help him go all the way.
Best team yet for Connor McDavid
The six-time All-Star discussed the strength of the roster with the media on the eve of the Oilers’ season-opener in Vancouver. As per Gerry Moddejonge of the Edmonton Sun, he said:
"“It feels the most mature. I’ve said this a couple times, everybody’s kind of in their prime. There is no wondering what the game’s going to feel like out there.”"
McDavid went on to expand on what makes this particular team the best he’s started a season with. He said:
"“Everyone in this group has played lots of years in this league and our young guys, I think, have gotten off to a great start, in (Dylan) Holloway and (Philip) Broberg. … the group’s in a good spot. That doesn’t mean a whole lot until the game starts.”"
Of course, it’s that final sentence which is key in all of this. The Oilers have been picked by sports media such as ESPN, to win it all this season, but that doesn’t mean a thing in reality.
You can have all the talent in the world, but it’s about putting it all together on the ice. McDavid is acutely aware of this, as he cautioned:
"“It’s exciting. With that being said, we’ve had good teams before and felt as strongly as we do this year.”"
Never was this more painfully the case for McDavid than last season. The Oilers led the NHL in scoring, had the best ever power-play percentage, and won 50 games for the first time since 1986-87.
When it came to crunch time in the playoffs however, the Oilers were found wanting against the Vegas Golden Knights. Making it worse, they had a lead in all six games versus the eventual Stanley Cup champions.
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Along these lines, the blue line appears to be in a better position to succeed entering this season. The Oilers have deployed a new defensive strategy, they will get a full season (hopefully) of Mattias Ekholm, and Jack Campbell looks set to bounce back from the worst campaign of his career.
Another factor that McDavid says will play a key is getting off to a good start, something which he admits has been an issue for the team in the past. He said:
"“I think last year through 20 games, we were 10-10. So, we’d like to see that have a better start. I don’t think we had four games or three games above .500 until maybe the new year, so we’d like to get off to a good first half of the year.”"
It’s still all on Connor McDavid
Ultimately though, fair or not, the pressure to succeed will be most on McDavid. No matter how much of a team game hockey is — and it significantly is so — if the Oilers come up short, he will been perceived as someone unable to come through when it matters most.
In five trips to the playoffs, the Richmond Hill, Ontario native has only had one outstanding run to date. This came in 2021-22, when his 33 points (10 goals and 23 assists) and +15 plus/minus in 16 games took the Oilers to their first Western Conference final since 2005-06.
Even then though, McDavid and the team came up short when it mattered most, being swept 4-0 by the Colorado Avalanche. As with the Golden Knights, the Avalanche went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Regardless, what should give fans plenty of encouragement, is that the Oilers captain just keeps getting better and better. Every time you think he might be close to his peak, he steps it up even more.
In this respect, last season was the best yet for McDavid, as he set career-highs with 64 goals, 89 assists and 153 total points. And the scary thing for opponents is that he’s only just entering his prime, with still more room for improvement.
What helps, is the centre’s work ethic and insatiable thirst to be the best. No matter how calm his demeanor may seem, no one is more — almost insanely — driven on the ice.
Again though, none of this will matter if Mr. Connor McDavid doesn’t find a way to finally win the Stanley Cup. He has the best set of teammates around him since he arrived in Edmonton; now it’s time to go out there and finally strike oil.