EDMONTON — Connor McDavid’s first show stopper came as a rookie, six games after his return from that broken collar bone back in November of 2015.
It had taken a few games to get back up to (warp) speed — he only had seven points in five games when the Toronto Maple Leafs rolled into town for a game that would decide 30th place in the National Hockey League standings. That’s where these franchises were: Two days earlier, while in Calgary, the Leafs had traded their captain, Dion Phaneuf, to Ottawa.
“The problem for us is, Dion is ready right now to win,” explained head coach Mike Babcock. “And we’re not.”
The Leafs were fresh meat for McDavid, not unlike Colorado goalie Adam Werner was in just his second NHL game Thursday night in Edmonton. It was the first time that McDavid evoked memories of Wayne Gretzky, who always lit up his hometown team back in the day.
McDavid rolled through those Leafs like a Greta through the oil patch, scoring twice and piling up five points in a 5-2 Oilers win.
“Looking across and seeing that logo during warmup kind of gave me the chills,” said a 19-year-old McDavid, who grew up a rabid Leafs fan. “So it was special to have a game like that against them.”
It was then that we thought that this might not be the last one of these evenings where a hockey country goes to work the next day to the coffee pot question, “Did you see McDavid last night?”
“I’ve heard a lot of things about him,” marvelled Toronto defenceman Jake Gardiner that night. “But actually seeing him play? He’s pretty good.”
Along the way, McDavid has come not to dwell on his big nights, the way the rest of us might. He doesn’t even put the late night highlights on before bed, to borrow a line from the Tragically Hip, just to see how alive you really are.
“No, not at all,” McDavid said Friday. “We put it on, we have Sportsnet and TSN on just over breakfast, but I’m not a guy who will watch it.”
We’ve all seen the McDavid interviews. He detests talking about himself, or posing with pucks as he did on the Oilers Twitter feed last night.
Look at him. He’d rather be anywhere else.
“I understand that it’s part of the job,” he said. “But yeah, I’m obviously a guy that doesn’t like to talk too much about myself or take too much recognition. So a little awkward for me.”
We asked Zack Kassian if he’d be as humble after a six-point night.
“I’d be fired up. I’d be a little different than that,” he laughed. “But he’s been doing stuff like that since he was little. Same with Leon. They’re two superstars, and after a game like that they’re one of the first guys here this morning, in the gym, they’re working out and they’re excited for the next game.”
For the record, according to the Erie Otters, McDavid never had more than six points in an OHL game. Now, he finds himself on a team that has three eight-point nights in its history, by Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey and Sam Gagner.
Heck, McDavid was 21 years away from even being born when Darryl Sittler had his 10-point night on Feb. 7, 1976. But he has heard about it over the years.
“When I was at six after the second, that’s when you start thinking about crazy stuff like that,” McDavid said. “I’ve never really thought about that, really. That’s funny that you mention that.”
He asked Gagner over a morning coffee what happened that night against Chicago when everything was going in for him.
“I asked him … how did his night start?” McDavid said. “He actually said he had nothing in the first period and three in the second and then five in the third. That’s pretty funny how it worked out. Obviously something was going right for him that night.”
The Dallas Stars are in for a Saturday matinee, and as they say, it’s time to move on from a six-point night, however fun it was. But with McDavid and Draisaitl still entering their prime in the NHL, we’ll be back here again sometime — likely soon.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Kassian. “Connor McDavid has four points at the end of the first period. Ends up with six. Leon, the Human Apple Tree, five assists. It’s pretty impressive.
“Fun to be around.”