Oilers’ Connor McDavid yearning for more goals this season

Shawn McKenzie along with NHL insider Chris Johnston discuss the Edmonton Oilers expectations heading into this season, after a disappointing 2017-18 campaign.

TORONTO – These words are coming in the wake of an historically significant season.

Connor McDavid racked up 84 of his league-best 108 points at even strength last year – more than any other player this century. Yes, that means more than Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin achieved at their height, more than Joe Thornton and the Sedins and a whole host of other future Hall of Famers.

While most hockey fans will remember McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers being out of the playoff race before it truly started a season ago, few probably realize he scored 26 times in the final 33 games to reach a career-best 41 goals. Amid a disastrous campaign, the game’s premier playmaker made good on a promise to become one of its most dangerous snipers.

"It’s crazy that we have a season like we did and he’s able to produce the way he did," said teammate Darnell Nurse.

And still, at the dawn of his fourth NHL season, McDavid is yearning for more.

"I’ve always said I want to score more," he said Monday during a break at the BioSteel Hockey Camp. "That’s what I want to do. I want to find ways to score. I think I’m a good passer and can make plays and all that, but there’s definitely a knack to putting the puck in the net that I seemed to find a little bit later in the year last year and I’m hoping to carry that into this year."

Opposing goaltenders, be forewarned.

McDavid’s words sound eerily like an early-career Crosby, who captured the Rocket Richard Trophy by scoring 51 goals in his fifth NHL season. The Pittsburgh Penguins captain famously spends each summer working on a specific facet of his game and zeroed in on scoring after 39-, 36-, 24- and 33-goal seasons to start his career.

Indeed, there seems to be a relentlessness shared by the best in any field. A tendency to steer well clear of complacency and hammer away at every perceived weakness.

On the surface, McDavid’s summer looks similar to the ones that came before it. He was back working with Gary Roberts on his fitness and did his usual on-ice skills training with Power Edge Pro. This week’s BioSteel Camp is an annual fixture for him as well.

However, he’s prioritized improving his shot throughout this off-season and will look to bump the number he takes for the fourth straight year.

"I think there’s always ways to improve your game and ways to be more dangerous and dynamic and I’m hoping to do that this year," said McDavid.

If it all goes to plan, we should not be surprised to see him challenge Ovechkin and contemporaries like Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews in the 2018-19 goals race. The NHL’s reigning two-time Art Ross Trophy winner has shown a knack for delivering on tasks he’s set his mind to.

He should also get a boost from the only significant change in an otherwise quiet Oilers off-season – a completely overhauled coaching staff under Todd McLellan. McDavid has only had brief conversations with new assistants Glen Gulutzan, Trent Yawney and Manny Viveiros, but has to like the early indications that Edmonton intends to play at a higher pace at 5-on-5 while reimagining a power play that clicked at an NHL-worst 14.8 per cent last season.

There should be more goals and points available to him with the man advantage.

Teammates and opponents marvel at the internal drive that accompanies McDavid’s other-worldly skill. It’s apparent even during an August scrimmage with no one watching in the stands.

"He’s hungry to get better no matter what level he’s at and that’s why he’s so great," said Nurse.

Max Domi first heard about McDavid while playing two age groups ahead of him in minor hockey around the Toronto area. He was even in the building when the young phenom scored his first Ontario Hockey League goal against Domi’s London Knights.

And after a June trade from Arizona to Montreal, he’ll welcome seeing a little less of No. 97 on the ice this coming season.

"His speed is second to none, right?" said Domi. "He can make plays that no one else sees, but the best part is that he does it at such a high speed. That’s what makes him so dangerous. Whenever he has the puck he’s going to do something.

"I’m definitely excited to be in the other conference."

Even with the disappointing memory of Edmonton’s 78-point season still fresh in McDavid’s mind, these are still pretty heady times. Just 21, he’s already reached the pinnacle of his sport individually and received a $13-million signing bonus when his new contract kicked in earlier this summer.

With the next flip of the calendar, he and the Oilers get a clean slate to start working their way back to respectability – and they’ll do so with much more modest expectations than the Stanley Cup predictions they were bombarded with last September.

"I don’t think it changes much," said McDavid. "We have to go in and work hard. I think the only thing that really changes is just that bitter taste in everyone’s mouth at where we finished and where we left off last year. Everyone should be highly motivated.

"Everyone had a good summer, worked hard, and now it’s time to kill it."

One goal at a time.

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