The Oilers will do battle with the Blackhawks on Tuesday night, with most of the attention quite rightly focused on Connor McDavid and Connor Bedard.
The Oilers have been heating up of late with an NHL-leading seven consecutive wins, including three straight at home. Following Monday’s action, they are within three points of a Western Conference playoff spot and with games in hand over the teams currently holding the two wild card positions.
The Oilers will obviously be hoping to extend their winning streak, when they host the Blackhawks on Tuesday night. However, there will be one other significant storyline also playing out at Rogers Place.
The game will signify the inaugural ‘Battle of the Connors’, which we hope no one thinks includes Connor Brown. We are of course talking about Connor McDavid’s first NHL matchup with Connor Bedard.
The duo have plenty in common, including both being selected first overall in their respective draft classes. For many, Bedard is the best player to be drafted since McDavid, with both regarded as generational talents.
So far so good
As you’d expect, Bedard has had his ups and downs as he acclimatises to the NHL during his first season. However, such is his talent that he’s experienced more good than bad, and is showing just exactly how special he is.
Yes the Blackhawks are tied for the fewest points in the NHL entering Tuesday’s slate of games. However the future is bright in Chicago, as Bedard has already adapted well and is leading the team in both goals and assist.
Comparisons between the two Connors are inevitable, and will follow them around for the entirety of their time together in the NHL (and even after McDavid retires). On a very simplistic level, it’s interesting to look at their productivity at the same stage of their respective careers.
Bedard enters Tuesday night having played 27 games, in the process scoring 11 goals and notching 12 assists, for a combined total of 23 points. By comparison, McDavid had 10 goals and 19 assists, for 29 overall points after his first 27 NHL games.
Interestingly, Bedard’s average ice time to this point is 19:20, compared to 18:01 by McDavid. The Oilers centre’s plus/minus rating of -4 is significantly better than his counterpart’s -14, although we appreciate critics will argue its level of effectiveness.
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Spending time together
The two do have a history, which includes training together during the summer. McDavid offers the 18-year-old advice when necessary, without going overboard.
It was a couple of years ago at the BioSteel camp, when the Oilers captain really started to understand what Bedard was all about. As per The Athletic‘s Mark Lazerus and Daniel Nugent-Bowman, he said:
"“There was a two-on-one, and he was looking off Sid (Crosby) and shooting the puck. He was 17 at the time. Obviously, he’s got the confidence on the ice. I say that respectfully, not in a bad way.”"
Understandably there are concerns about Bedard’s ability to deal with expectations and pressure, but McDavid believes he’ll be fine, drawing on his own experience to explain why. As per ESPN‘s Ryan S. Clark and Greg Wyshynski, he said:
"“I’m sure he’s going to have to deal with that a little bit, but it seems like he really has a good head on his shoulders. You get used to it. There’s a lot of noise your rookie year. In your draft year, a lot of people are talking about you as you go through the whole process. It’s lots of interviews, lots of media, lots of attention and stuff like that. You finally get back to playing. That’s what you love to do and that’s what you’re good at.”"
Watching the best
As for Bedard, he makes sure to watch McDavid play as much as possible. Speaking to Tracey Myers of NHL.com, he said:
"“I wish I could implement; I don’t think I can move that fast or anything, but he’s the best player in the world and he’s so fun to watch. The stuff he does every shift, it’s crazy. Someone I love to watch, love to watch those games. Him and Leon (Draisaitl), they’ve got pretty good chemistry, too, so it’s fun to watch.”"
Bedard definitely comes across as someone with the right balance between self-confidence and humbleness. Even allowing for how this is often the case in hockey with the top players, it’s still impressive given how young he is.
McDavid versus Bedard is already being touted as the NHL’s next great rivalry. The expectation is for it to follow in the path of Crosby versus Alex Ovechkin.
(People mention McDavid versus Auston Matthews, but in a lot of respects, it doesn’t really feel like it’s ever properly taken off. It arguably hinders it somewhat that they do not play in the same conference, unlike the two Connors are now doing.)
Of course the main focus on Tuesday night will be for the Oilers to pick up another win, to continue their climb up the standings. However, anyone in attendance at Rogers Place should be aware they will be bearing witness to the start of something special between two players.