Connor McDavid became the youngest captain in the history of the National Hockey League on Wednesday, when the Edmonton Oilers anointed their young superstar with that franchise’s captaincy.
Now the question begs, can McDavid live up to the mantle recently held by the best player in the game, Sidney Crosby?
At 19 years and 266 days, McDavid surpasses Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog (19 years, 286 days) as the youngest captain in NHL history. Landeskog inherited that honour from Crosby, who had been 11 days older when Pittsburgh put the C on jersey No. 87.
The knighting of McDavid has been a poorly kept secret in Edmonton, where management assured fans at the end of last season that the team would name a captain this autumn. As McDavid clearly cemented himself as the best player on the team — and was subsequently named a World Cup captain of Team North America, a team run by Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli and coached by Edmonton head coach Todd McLellan — it became obvious that McDavid would be the one named to lead the Oilers out of a decade-long streak of playoff futility.
Why so soon? Because it was inevitable.
McDavid is far and away the best player on this hockey team, and on track to be the best player in the game in short order. In the meantime, the Oilers traded away the former face of the franchise, Taylor Hall, and are ready to remake themselves under the leadership of the fresh-faced phenom from Newmarket, Ontario.
“He was the leader on the ice by the end of the season,” Hall said at the end of last season, one of the first clues that McDavid had been accepted as Alpha dog among the Oilers players.
Hall was clearly disappointed to leave Edmonton when he was traded to New Jersey, with McDavid foremost among signs that things are finally about to turn around in Edmonton.
“He’s a very mature young man. It’s surprising he’s only 19 years old, the way he carries himself,” new Oiler Milan Lucic said last week. “That’s what going to make him a great leader and, at some point, the next captain of the Oilers.”
Lucic, whom many believed was the most valuable free agent catch at the July 1 trading deadline, spoke openly about choosing Edmonton because he wanted a chance to patrol McDavid’s left wing. That is the cache that the 19-year-old has quickly built across the NHL, and that esteem was only buttressed with his performance in leading Team North America at the recent World Cup.
Now the question becomes, can McDavid’s on-ice leadership translate off the ice and throughout an organization? Ironically, it is players like Lucic who will help McDavid the most.
Leading on the ice will not be an issue — McDavid is the fastest, most skilled player on the team who will almost certainly lead them in scoring and ice time among forwards. Off the ice, the team has loaded up on veteran players like Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Matt Hendricks, and perhaps Kris Versteeg (on a PTO), to aid the young captain in off-ice decisions surrounding players’ preferences — like travel, off days, and any issues that may arise among teammates in an NHL dressing room.
Today McDavid is the youngest captain in NHL history. Will he become the youngest to hoist a Stanley Cup?
That still seems some distance away.