How one game catapulted Connor McDavid right back into Hart and Art contention

After being off the pace for most of the season, Connor McDavid is back in contention for honours and once again showing why he's the best player in the game.

Edmonton Oilers v Anaheim Ducks
Edmonton Oilers v Anaheim Ducks / Sean M. Haffey/GettyImages

As far back as the beginning of December, we were predicting Connor McDavid still had an excellent chance at competing for the Art Ross Trophy. And yet as January was winding down, he was 22 points off the pace.

Back towards the end of November McDavid was considered favourite for the Hart Trophy. However this was met with incredulity, due to the Oilers at that time having the third-fewest points in the NHL and their best player being tied for the third-worst plus/minus rating on the team, at -8.

Whatever your thoughts were on where the seven-time All-Star stood in the race for either trophy, as of today he's undoubtedly in a better position. And his stunning performance on Tuesday night at home to the Detroit Red Wings, was all it took to strengthen said position.

McDavid had a game for the ages in the 8-4 win over the Red Wings, as he notched the first six-assist performance of his career. He became the fifth Oiler to achieve the distinction and the 26th player overall in NHL history.

The 27-year-old's outing was highlighted by a sublime and ridiculous assist on Evander Kane's goal. The way he turned Moritz Seider inside outside with a spin move before setting up Kane, was something the majority of NHL players could only dream of doing.

As a result of the assist-frenzy, McDavid became the fourth-fastest player in league history to reach 600 assists. Certainly, his 603 helpers in just 616 games is something truly special.

Of course the Oilers' main ambitions include qualifying for the playoffs and finally making a genuine and sustained run at that elusive Stanley Cup. However, for the purpose of this article, where does Number 97 stand on an individual level in his pursuit of accolades?

Another scoring title on the horizon?

The quest for a sixth Art Ross Trophy is easier to quantify, given that it's purely a numbers game. In this respect it should be noted McDavid does still sit 13 points off the pace heading into Wednesday night's action.

However, it does come with a couple of qualifiers which also both serve as encouraging for McDavid. The first is the aforementioned referenced to previously being 22 points behind towards the end of January.

The 2015 first overall draft pick had only gained three points on the lead prior to Tuesday night, highlighting the importance of the six assists versus the Red Wings. Just like that he is in the top three for scoring for the first time this season.

The second qualifier which also gives reason for encouragement, is that McDavid has only played 47 games so far in 2023-24, with 33 remaining for the Oilers. By comparison, first place Nikita Kucherov (90) has played 53 with 28 games left for the Lightning and second place Nathan MacKinnon (87) has played 54 with also 28 Avalanche games left.

Looking to prove he's still the game's best

Turning to the Hart Trophy, this is tougher to quantify given the subjective nature of how different people interpret what constitutes the most valuable player to a team. We will say though that it the Oilers had managed to equal and even surpass the Pittsburgh Penguins' NHL record 17-consecutive wins, this would have helped McDavid considerably. (Not that 16 straight victories can't help!)

Regardless, the Oilers captain is still well-placed for a run at his fourth Hart Memorial Trophy. In fact, according to The Athletic's Dom Luszczyszyn (subscription required), he is now the favourite to win it following Tuesday's performance versus the Red Wings.

Luszczyszyn goes on to write that it's McDavid's award to lose and does not see how MacKinnon will catch him now that he's been overtaken. This assertion is in part qualified by the Oilers earning 63 percent of expected goals with their leader on the ice, which is a career high for him.

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Overall, this is still about the Oilers getting the monkey off their back and finally bringing the Holy Grail back to Edmonton. To not do this would be a massive failure and colossal waste of the talent currently on the team, of course highlighted by their four-time Ted Lindsay Award winner.

At the same time, if McDavid does manage to secure one or both of the Hart and Art Ross trophies, this should also benefit the team as a whole. They may not be the most important quests for him, but they sure can't hurt his pursuit of the ultimate goal.

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