With a hefty 2017 trophy haul in the books and a slew of highlight-reel performances already etched in Edmonton Oilers history, Connor McDavid has already cemented himself among the best talents the NHL has ever seen. And yet, astoundingly, the 20-year-old phenom, whose speed routinely leaves defenders spinning, is still getting better.
That’s according to Joe Quinn, the Oilers captain’s longtime skating and skills coach, who broke down his pupil’s all-world speed for The Hockey News‘ Ken Campbell in a piece published Friday.
“His speed was a little quicker (this summer)” Quinn told Campbell. “I think he can add more speed. How much more? Can he get to 42 or 43 kilometres an hour? I think he can. He’s still young, he’s only 20 years old and he’s going to get better. He still has a lot of room to get better.”
Quinn, who founded the Power Edge Pro development system that McDavid has long sworn by, and who’s trained other speedy NHLers like Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon, said the goal of his training is to overload players’ motor skills in an effort to improve their ability to multitask on the ice.
Having trained in that context for nearly a decade, McDavid is well-accustomed to juggling the various aspects of his skill set in even the most chaotic of situations.
“With a lot of guys, if the feet are doing something, the hands aren’t,” Quinn said. “If the hands are trying to beat the opponent, the feet are in the glide position. They lose their speed and have to recreate energy. Connor doesn’t have to do that because with the overloading he’s had and his nervous system, he’s a major, major multitasker.”
A significant part of the young gun’s skill lies in the mechanics of his skating, according to Quinn. Whereas most elite NHLers incorporate a crossover every few strides, already far more often than the average NHLer, McDavid can ramp up that frequency even higher.
“I’ve seen times where he’ll run his route back to his zone and he’ll explode up the ice and he’ll go 120 feet of zero strides, 100 per cent crossovers,” Quinn said. “It’s one thing to have speed, it’s easy to see it, but he does things at full speed that are hard to defend against.”
But that’s just the tip of the McDavidian iceberg. There are also the ways the Richmond Hill, Ont., native pivots on a dime, eludes defenders with his upper-body movement, or simply out-thinks the opposition given the speed at which he sees the game.
“The defender has to match his crossover. If he’s cutting to the right, you’re cutting with him and you have to maintain that speed and you’ve also got to maintain the false information he’s giving the defender,” Quinn said. “That defender has to counter back and that’s where the problem is. They can’t counter back because they’re not sure which way he’s going to go and if they do bite, the puck goes one way and his body goes the other.
“So now you’ve got the arm out and you’re trying to reach out and hang on to him. You’ll see a lot of defencemen get into a frozen mode where, ‘I’m going to stay here and I don’t know which way he’s going to go, left or right.’ And they’re in a worse position.”
With 49 goals and 153 career points to his name thus far, it’s safe to say that strategy hasn’t fared too well against the quick-stepping McDavid. Unfortunately, if Quinn is to be believed, defending against the young Oilers pivot is only going to get more difficult over the coming seasons.